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Disease

Malaria

Page last updated on 22 June 2020

Malaria is a serious and sometimes life-threatening parasitic infection spread by the bite of a certain mosquito (i.e. the female Anopheles mosquito).

Mainland Australia is free from malaria, but it is sometimes present in the Torres Strait Islands. Malaria occurs most commonly across the equatorial regions of the globe, and therefore, travellers to these regions should consider medication for malaria prevention before they leave, during travel and after they return.

Malaria can be a severe infection, and may be fatal without effective and timely treatment.
 

Key disease information

What is malaria?

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito (i.e. the female Anopheles mosquito), which feeds on humans.

There are five types of parasites that cause malaria in humans: Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium knowlesi and Plasmodium falciparum. Initially, the parasites roam in the bloodstream for a short time before moving on to infect the liver and multiply. After about 6–16 days (depending on which parasite it is), the parasite returns to the bloodstream to infect and multiply inside the red blood cells.

How is malaria spread?

Malaria is spread by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. The mosquito may have picked up the parasite from another person, but in general, people cannot spread the parasite directly to one another.

However, malaria can be spread by blood transfusion, organ transplantation, sharing of needles, or from mother to baby before and/or during birth.

Is malaria contagious?

No. Malaria cannot be spread casually from person to person. Malaria can only be transferred by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito.

However, because malaria lives in the red blood cells, it can be spread via blood transfusion, organ transplantation, or from a mother to baby.

What are the symptoms of malaria?

Malaria may present with cycles of fever, sweating, chills, and shivering, along with headache, diarrhoea, and anaemia.

Severe malaria, particularly of which is caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, may include symptoms of brain involvement (cerebral malaria) including abnormal behaviour, seizures, and coma. Acute respiratory distress, kidney failure, and death may also occur in cases of severe malaria. 

How long does it take to show symptoms of malaria?

In most cases, symptoms will appear 9 days to 4 weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Occasionally symptoms develop weeks or months later. Some types of malaria can re-occur months or years after exposure.

What countries are affected by malaria?

Malaria is very common across the equatorial regions of the globe, including sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific, and the Americas.

How can malaria be prevented?

There are two main ways to prevent malaria infection: by preventing mosquito bites and by taking anti-malarial medication.

Ways to prevent mosquito bite include:

  • Wearing loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Using high strength mosquito repellent on exposed skin and clothes. If also using sunscreen, make sure to apply sunscreen first and then the repellent.
  • Using clothing and equipment such as boots and tents treated with permethrin (an insecticide).
  • Being extra vigilant at dawn and dusk (peak mosquito biting hours).
  • Removing or covering still water, e.g. water buckets.
  • Sleeping in a room where windows and doors are closed or screened or using a bed net if the room is exposed to the outdoors. Use “Long-Lasting Insecticidal Nets” (LLINs) in preference to “Insecticide-Treated Nets” (ITNs).
  • Spraying the indoor surfaces of houses and living quarters with residual insecticides.

There are several different anti-malarial medications available and your doctor will be able to decide which one is most suitable for you depending on your itinerary. These need to be taken before, during and after your trip.


For further information regarding malaria and its prevention, speak with your healthcare professional.
 

VaccineHub offers general information only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice

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Sources & Citations

  1. Australian Government. Department of Health. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Number of notifications for Malaria, Australia, 1991 to 2019 and year-to-date notifications for 2020. Available at: http://www9.health.gov.au/cda/source/rpt_4.cfm (accessed 11 March 2020).
  2. NSW Government, Department of Health, Malaria fact sheet. Available at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/malaria.aspx (accessed 11 March 2020). 
  3. World Health Organisation, Malaria Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs094/en/ (accessed 11 March 2020).
  4. Victorian State Government, Better Health Channel, Malaria. Available at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/malaria (accessed 11 March 2020).
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Malaria Disease. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/disease.html (accessed 11 March 2020).

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.05.0186(1) - Date of preparation March 2020

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