Malaria is an acute febrile illness caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are spread to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. There are 5 parasite species that cause malaria in humans, and 2 of these species – P. falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat. P. falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent. P. vivax is the dominant malaria parasite in most countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
The first symptoms – fever, headache and chills – usually appear 10–15 days after the infective mosquito bite and may be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria. Left untreated, P. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness and death within a period of 24 hours.
In 2020, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria. Some population groups are at considerably higher risk of contracting malaria and developing severe disease: infants, children under 5 years of age, pregnant women and patients with HIV/AIDS, as well as people with low immunity moving to areas with intense malaria transmission such as migrant workers, mobile populations and travellers.
Symptoms of malaria include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Malaria may cause anemia and jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin and eyes) because of the loss of red blood cells. If not promptly treated, the infection can become severe and may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death.