Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite, Plasmodium, which infects red blood cells. Malaria is characterized by cycles of chills, fever, pain, and sweating. Historical records suggest malaria has infected humans since the beginning of mankind. The name "mal aria" (meaning "bad air" in Italian) was first used in English in 1740 by H. Walpole when describing the disease. The term was shortened to "malaria" in the 20th century. C. Laveran in 1880 was the first to identify the parasites in human blood. In 1889, R. Ross discovered that mosquitoes transmitted malaria. Of the four common species that cause malaria, the most serious type is Plasmodium falciparum malaria. It can be life-threatening. However, another relatively new species, Plasmodium knowlesi, is also a dangerous species that is typically found only in long-tailed and pigtail macaque monkeys. Like P. falciparum, P. knowlesi may be deadly to anyone infected. The other three common species of malaria (P. vivax, P. malariae, and P. ovale) are generally less serious and are usually not life-threatening. It is possible to be infected with more than one species of Plasmodium at the same time.
Currently, about 2 million deaths per year worldwide are due to Plasmodium infections. The majority occur in children under 5 years of age in sub-Saharan African countries. There are about 400 million new cases per year worldwide. Most people diagnosed in the U.S. obtained their infection outside of the country, usually while living or traveling through an area where malaria is endemic.
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