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General information on Malaria

About Malaria

About malaria
What is malaria?
What are the symptoms of malaria?

According to the World Health Organisation, almost half the world’s population (an estimated 3.2 billion people in 97 countries and territories) are at risk of being infected with malaria. About 200 million cases of malaria occurred globally in 2013 and the disease led to about 600 000 deaths. The malaria burden is heaviest in Africa, where an estimated 90% of all malaria deaths occur, and in children aged under 5 years, who account for 78% of all malaria deaths.

Malaria is one of the most serious tropical diseases and can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated promptly with effective antimalarials. Malaria is caused by a group of parasites known as Plasmodia. There are many different types of Plasmodia parasites, but only five can cause malaria in humans - P. falciparum, which is the most deadly, P. vivax, P. ovale, P. knowlesi and P. malariae

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of malaria if you travel to or live in areas where malaria transmission occurs. Treatment should be sought urgently  (within 24 hours) if you show any of the symptoms below – even if you have taken malaria prophylaxis. Symptoms usually appear between 1 and 3 weeks after becoming infected, but in some cases this can take up to a year, or occasionally even longer.

How is malaria spread?
Where does malaria transmission occur?
What are the symptoms of severe malaria?

A single mosquito bite is all it takes for someone to become infected. The Plasmodium parasite is mainly spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes, which predominantly bite at night. When an infected mosquito bites a human, it passes the parasites into the bloodstream. Malaria can also be spread through blood transfusions and the sharing of needles, but this is very rare.

Malaria is mainly transmitted in the tropical regions of the world; while some transmission does occur outside of the tropics, it tends to be seasonal in these areas (i.e. usually only during periods of high temperature/high rainfall). In South Africa, malaria transmission usually occurs between October and May along our north-eastern borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Within the tropics, malaria is found in Africa, Asia and South America, with the highest number of cases is in Africa. Outside Africa, the next highest levels of malaria are in India and south-east Asia and the western Pacific (such as Papua New Guinea). 

Those with any of the danger signs (unable to drink fluids / breastfeed or repeated vomiting), in high-risk groups, or features of severe malaria listed below should seek treatment immediately. 

How to avoid malaria?
Measures to avoid mosquito bites

Prevention is better than cure!

  • Going somewhere? Find out whether there is a risk of getting malaria there. The risk is lower during the cold and dry seasons. 
  • Take measures to prevent mosquito bites in all risk areas. 
  • If recommended, take malaria prophylaxis as directed by your doctor or clinic (only atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline or mefloquine have been proven effective in preventing malaria).

  • If possible, remain indoors between dusk and dawn (mosquitoes carrying malaria bite at night)
  • Wear long-sleeved clothing, long trousers and socks when going out at night.
  • Apply an insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin at night
  •  Sleep under a mosquito proof bed-net that has been treated with an approved insecticide. 
  • Spray inside with an insecticide spray, or plug in mosquito repellant mat after closing windows and doors.