Malaria

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Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by a eukaryotic protist of the genus Plasmodium. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, including parts of the Americas (22 countries), Asia, and Africa. After a period of between two weeks and several months (occasionally years) spent in the liver, the malaria parasites start to multiply within red blood cells, causing symptoms that include fever, and headache. In severe cases the disease worsens leading to hallucinations, coma, and death.

Five species of the plasmodium parasite can infect humans: the most serious forms of the disease are caused by Plasmodium falciparum. Malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malariae causes milder disease in humans that is not generally fatal. A fifth species, Plasmodium knowlesi, is a zoonosis that causes malaria in macaques but can also infect humans.[1][2]

Malaria transmission can be reduced by preventing mosquito bites by distribution of inexpensive mosquito nets and insect repellents, or by mosquito-control measures such as spraying insecticides inside houses and draining standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Although many are under development, the challenge of producing a widely available vaccine that provides a high level of protection for a sustained period is still to be met.[3]

A variety of antimalarial medication are available. In the last 5 years, treatment of P. falciparum infections in endemic countries has been transformed by the use of combinations of drugs containing an artemisinin derivative. Severe malaria is treated with intravenous or intramuscular quinine or, increasingly, the artemisinin derivative artesunate.[4] Several drugs are also available to prevent malaria in travellers to malaria-endemic countries (prophylaxis). Resistance has developed to several antimalarial drugs, most notably chloroquine.[5]

Each year, there are more than 250 million cases of malaria,[6] killing between one and three million people, the majority of whom are young children in sub-Saharan Africa.[7] Ninety percent of malaria-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is commonly associated with poverty, and can indeed be a cause of poverty[8] and a major hindrance to economic development.

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