Malaria: Life Cycle, Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment, and More

Medically Reviewed
Jason Schuster
Written by Jason Schuster on March 04, 2022Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mya Bellinger

About | Causes | Transmission | Symptoms | Tests | Prevention | Treatment | Recovery | Vaccines & DrugsLife Cycle

Mosquitoes can carry and infect humans with three known infectious agents, viruses, bacterias, and parasites. Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by being bitten by a female anopheles mosquito that carries parasites.

What causes malaria?

Mosquitos don’t cause malaria but spread it. Mosquitoes infecting humans with the plasmodium falciparum parasite spread malaria. This enters into the red blood cells in the liver to mature. This is the dormant phase.

The parasite develops, then is released into the bloodstream, where it begins to have widespread, detrimental effects. Different plasmodium parasites affect different areas of the body. The most deadly form primarily attacks the brain. The parasites eat the haemoglobin in our red blood cells and basically deoxygenate and damage numerous vital processes inside our cells.

How is malaria transmitted?

Malaria is transmitted through a bite of an infected female mosquito. It can also be transmitted through blood transfusion from people with malaria. Contaminated needles and syringes also transmit malaria to other people.

What are the symptoms of malaria?

Common symptoms of malaria at the onset of the symptomatic phase of the disease are:

  • fever,
  • chills,
  • headache,
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • typical flu-like symptoms

Severe symptoms are:

  • hypoglycemia,
  • tachycardia,
  • cerebral and organ anemia,
  • hypoxia,
  • death

How to test for malaria?

To diagnose Malaria, doctors recommend you to have a blood test. Doctors prepare different slides of your blood sample and examine the parasite by microscope.

This is the traditional method. Apart from this, if you are not a medical professional and you want to check yourself or someone close to you, then you can do Malaria antigen detection tests.

With Malaria antigen detection tests, you can test Malaria on your own in a short time, which is also easily available in the market.

How to prevent malaria?

Don’t get bitten by mosquitos is the best answer. That is basically impossible, however. To prevent malaria you can:

  • sleep under a mosquito net.
  • apply mosquito repellent with deet on exposed skin.
  • treat your mosquito nets and sleeping bags with permethrin insect repellent.
  • spray your skin and clothes with insect repellent when going out.

Malaria mosquitoes breed in stagnant water. Note, if you find any stagnant water near you, do not forget to clean it.

How is malaria treated?

There are numerous treatment avenues, depending on the type of parasite the patient is infected with. It must be treated prophylactically to avoid infection. Recent vaccines have been developed, but they require numerous doses and are not very efficacious.

Artemisinin-based combination treatments (ACTs) like artemether-lumefantrine and artesunate-mefloquine are now generally accepted as the best treatments for uncomplicated falciparum malaria.

The most common treatments worldwide include hydroxychloroquine, primaquine, ivermectin, and doxycycline.

How long does malaria last?

Malaria can last a lifetime, providing you don’t receive treatment and it doesn’t kill you. It can lie dormant in various organs for long periods of time. With proper treatment, you should be cured in 3-4 weeks.

Malaria vaccines and drugs

RTS, S/AS01 (trade name Mosquirix) is a vaccine that is given to children aged 6 weeks to 17 months to help protect against malaria. Mosquirix provides only short-term protection against malaria.

The most commonly used drugs for the treatment of malaria are hydroxychloroquine, primaquine, ivermectin, and doxycycline.

Doctors also recommend paracetamol when the patient has a fever.

What is the life cycle of malaria?

When an infected female Anopheles mosquito bites a person, the plasmodium parasite transfers into the human body. This disease-causing plasmodium enters from mosquitos to humans in the form of sporozoites. Sporozoite is a stage in the life cycle of plasmodium.

At this particular stage, they are capable to cause an infection in the human body.

Once they enter the bloodstream of the humans, they eventually reach their target liver. Here they attack the liver cells starts maturing into a different form over the next 7 to 10 days, causing no symptoms.

After that, they release themselves back into the bloodstream by bursting out the liver cells. The form which in they are released into the bloodstream is known as merozoites.

These merozoites now target the red blood cells. Now, in the red blood cells, the merozoites develop into a ring-like structure called a trophozoite. Now the two cases can occur:

Case 1: Most of the trophozoites begin with an asexual cycle to give rise to new merozoites exponentially. The number of merozoites produced is too large for the red blood cells to contain. So they are released out, with the bursting of the red blood cells. The released merozoites can now attack new red blood cells and keep increasing their population exponentially. 

Case 2: Trophozoites begin with a sexual cycle. With this trophozoites give rise to two different gametocytes. Gametocytes are like the germ cells of plasmodium. 

When a non-infected mosquito approaches the infected human to bite, then these gametocytes quickly pass into the mosquito’s body with sucked blood.

Now, in the mosquito’s body, both, male and female gametocytes fuse to form a zygote. From here oocyst is developed which crosses the mosquitos’ gut wall and reaches the salivary glands.

Here oocyst releases several sporozoites which are ready to infect a new healthy individual with the next mosquito bite.

Now when an infected female Anopheles mosquito bites a healthy person, the sporozoites get transmitted, repeat the complete cycle and causes the infection. 

Medically Reviewed
Jason Schuster
Written by Jason Schuster on March 04, 2022Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mya Bellinger

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