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Malaria - Causes of malaria

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite.



parasite can be spread to humans through the bites of  infected mosquitoes


There are many different types of Plasmodium parasite, but only five types cause malaria in humans. These are listed below.

  • Plasmodium falciparum: mainly found in Africa and responsible for most malaria deaths worldwide.
  • Plasmodium vivax: mainly found in Asia and Latin America. This parasite produces less severe symptoms than Plasmodium falciparum, but it can stay in the liver for up to three years, which can result in relapses.
  • Plasmodium ovale: fairly uncommon and usually found in West Africa. It can remain in your liver for several years without producing symptoms.
  • Plasmodium malariae: this is quite rare and usually only found in Africa.
  • Plasmodium knowlesi: this is very rare and found in parts of Southeast Asia.

How malaria is spread

The Plasmodium parasite is spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes, known as night-biting mosquitoes, because they usually bite between dusk and dawn.

If a mosquito bites a person infected with malaria, it can also become infected and spread the parasite on to others.

The parasite enters the bloodstream and travels to the liver. The infection develops in the liver before re-entering the bloodstream and invading the red blood cells.

The parasites grow and multiply in the red blood cells. At regular intervals, the infected blood cells burst, releasing more parasites into the blood.

Infected blood cells usually burst every 48 to 72 hours. Each time they burst, you will have a bout of fever, chills and sweating.

Pregnancy and malaria

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women should avoid travelling to areas where there is a risk of malaria.

If you get malaria while pregnant, you and your baby have an increased risk of developing complications.

There is also a higher risk of premature birth, stillbirth and miscarriage (loss of the pregnancy during the first 23 weeks).

Visit your GP if you're pregnant and travelling to a high-risk area. They may recommend that you take anti-malaria medicine.

Read more about taking antimalarials while you are pregnant.

Medical Review: March 13, 2012
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