Causes of Malaria

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Malaria is a vector born disease that is caused by a plasmodium parasite. It is carried by mosquitoes and it is the parasite that gets into your bloodstream and causes the disease. You only need to be bitten once in order for you to become infected. There are also five different types of parasite that cause malaria. Some cause a more severe form of the disease whereas some are not as dangerous and the type of parasite you become infected with depends on what area of the world you become infected in.

The most common cause of malaria is Plasmodium Falciparum. This parasite is usually found in Africa and is responsible for the majority of malaria cases. It also causes the most severe form of malaria as it can affect all red blood cells in the body. It can multiply quickly which leads to high levels of the parasite in your blood and this can lead to a condition called hemoglobinemia. It usually occurs within one month of infection although this time frame may be longer. This form of malaria can cause changes in mental state, organ disease especially the kidneys and the lungs, lactic acidosis, hypoxia and hypoglycaemia.

Plasmodium vivax can also cause Malaria. It is found in Asia and Latin America where it causes a less severe form of the disease. It can take around two to three months before the symptoms start to appear and you are more likely to have a relapse with this parasite because it can hide in your liver for three years.  It can cause the spleen to rupture but it is not as severe as Plasmodium falciparum as it cannot affect all the red blood cells, only young red blood cells.  Plasmodium ovale is a less severe version of plasmodium vivax that is quite uncommon. It occurs in West Africa and can also stay in the liver for several years. Although it causes malaria, sometimes the disease will resolve without any treatment.

Plasmodium malariae is a rare parasite that can cause malaria, usually in the African region. It goes unnoticed for a long period of time because it is often asymptomatic so you do not realise you have the disease. This version of malaria is more likely to reoccur. The final parasite that causes malaria is Plasmodium knowslei, which is a very rare parasite that is found in South Africa. It usually affects simian species but it has also been documented in affecting humans in countries such as Borneo, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. It can be fatal and is often misdiagnosed, as it looks very similar to Plasmodium malariae under the microscope.

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