Do you know that children under the age of five are among the most vulnerable when it comes to malaria? We talk to a renowned expert to help you with key inputs.
By Monali Bordoloi
Pratima loves gardening. However, after the birth of her baby, she is not able to tend to her garden. Now, her whole garden is in a mess. The grass has grown taller due to lack of regular trimming and the flower pots are full of dirty water. Her once beautiful garden is now a breeding ground for mosquitos. One day, her two-year-old son, Samanyu, has high fever and chills. A visit to the doctor and subsequent blood tests confirm her son has malaria. During discussions with Pratima, the doctor points to the garden as the culprit behind her son’s illness.
Pratima’s situation is not an isolated one. Every year, many people, including children, become victims of dreaded malaria.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India has the 4th highest number of malaria cases and deaths in the world. One recent study states that 95 percent of India’s population lives in ‘malaria-endemic areas’. That makes it even more important to take measures to eradicate the disease.
But yes, with a little bit of care, malaria can be prevented. For those suffering from malaria, there is a standard medication and care that can help them recover from it. We talk to Prof. B Reddya Naik, Director, Sir Ronald Ross Institute of Tropical and Communicable Diseases, for answers to some FAQs on the disease.
Is malaria infectious or contagious? How does it spread?
Malaria is an infectious disease. It is spread by a particular type of female mosquito called Anopheles mosquito. The mosquito acts as a vector (vehicle) to transport the malaria-causing parasite called Plasmodium. This is the reason malaria is called a vector-borne disease.
When a female Anopheles mosquito bites a person with malaria, the Plasmodium parasite gets inside the mosquito. When the infected mosquito bites a normal person, the parasite is transmitted into his bloodstream resulting in malaria.
Within 48 to 72 hours, the Plasmodium parasite multiplies rapidly in the liver and starts infecting red blood cells. Slowly, it breaks down the immune system of the body. A severe form of malaria could even hamper development in young children.
What are the symptoms of malaria? How soon can an infected person know that he has malaria?
Some of the common symptoms of malaria are high fever with chills, sweating, headaches, muscle pain and vomiting. In some cases, symptoms of malaria show up very late. However, in most cases, symptoms start showing within seven to 18 days.
How serious is the disease?
Malaria is one of the deadliest diseases to affect mankind. The fatality rate is more than 40 per cent.
How is the disease diagnosed?
In a high prevalence area, malaria is diagnosed through symptomatic diagnosis where common symptoms of the disease are taken into consideration. However, it is always better to diagnose the disease through a blood sample test.
When the infected mosquito bites a normal person, the parasite is transmitted into his bloodstream resulting in malaria.
What is the treatment and how long does it take to cure?
The treatment and recovery period depends on the intensity of the parasite's attack. Depending on the severity, the treatment could be for a few weeks.
Treatment is also hugely dependent on the drug resistance power of the various species of Plasmodium parasites. Generally, a minimum of two weeks of treatment is recommended for malaria patients. In some cases, there are relapses too.
How can one care for a child infected with malaria? What can one do to ensure a speedy recovery?
An infected child should get enough rest as the disease causes extreme weakness. The child should be properly hydrated with regular water consumption. In addition, healthy, nutritious food should be given to the child to build his immunity.
Are there preventive medicines or vaccines?
The best preventive measure is to wipe out breeding grounds of mosquitos and ensure protection from mosquito bites. There are anti-malarial medications which can be taken, based on the doctor’s advice. Vaccines for malaria are under trial.
Are young children and pregnant women at greater risk from malaria?
Yes, due to hormonal changes, pregnant women are at a greater risk. As the immune system of children under five is not fully developed, they are also at risk.
Tell us about other measures to prevent malaria?
Using mosquito nets with a hole size of 1-1.5mm at night could prevent mosquito bites to a large extent. Wearing long-sleeved clothing, using good quality repellent creams or patches also help in bringing down mosquito bites.
Identifying and cleaning mosquito-breeding spots is another effective method of preventing malaria.
A word to our parents?
Our focus on eradicating malaria should be on preventive care, not curative care. So, I emphasise on ‘know mosquito, no malaria’. Once you have knowledge about the disease, you can take measures to prevent it.
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