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By Chloe & Sienna

What is Malaria?

Malaria is an incredibly deadly and life-threatening disease caused by a Plasmodium Parasite. The disease infects and spreads throughout the bloodstream through red blood cells. Malaria can occur in over 100 countries and territories, consequently placing half the world's population at risk. Mosquitos spread Malaria relatively comfortably, as they can carry the disease without it affecting them. The disease causes flu-like symptoms, which can unfortunately sometimes be fatal. Malaria is responsible for approximately 1-3 million deaths per year.

What are the signs and symptoms of Malaria, and how does it affect the body?

There are five types of Malaria caused by plasmodium parasites that can affect the human body. These five species are Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium knowlesi. Plasmodium is a single-celled parasite that infects the bloodstream, and the disease is then carried through the bloodstream by red blood cells. There are many common signs and symptoms which may occur with all types of Malaria. Examples of these are headaches, diarrhea, fatigue, body aches, yellow skin, kidney failure, seizures, confusion, or any flu-like symptoms. However, the signs and symptoms can vary depending on the type of Malaria an individual is suffering from.

Which Pathogen causes the disease?

The Pathogen Plasmodium is the parasite that causes Malaria. Plasmodium is a single-celled organism that multiplies within the host’s bloodstream. The Pathogen is oval-shaped with dark brown pigment, and it consists of a distinct membrane-bound nucleus in the species. It also contains a compact cytoplasm with a large chromatin dot.

How is the disease transmitted?

Malaria spreads through the transmission of infected blood, frequently from direct contact with separate individuals. The malaria parasite is found in the red blood cells of a person infected with the disease. The most common way the disease spreads is through mosquitoes; however, it also spreads through blood transfusions, transplants, and contaminated needles or syringes. The illness is not contagious like the stereotypical cold or flu and cannot be sexually transmitted. 

The Mosquito transmission cycle

The transmission cycle begins when an uninfected mosquito feeds on an individual carrying the malaria disease. It does not negatively affect the mosquito; however, it can manipulate the mosquitos’ feeding behaviours. This may motivate the mosquito to feed on vertebrate hosts to increase parasite transmission. When an infected mosquito bites a person, the parasite from another’s blood is transmitted. Once the parasite enters the body, it will immediately travel to the liver, in some cases laying dormant for up to a year, depending on the contracted type of Malaria. The parasite sits in the liver until it matures, where it then leaves the liver and infects the red blood cells. At this stage, the disease begins to negatively affect the host’s body, causing the host to develop symptoms and become ill. The cycle then restarts, with the parasite infecting other mosquito’s, therefore initiating its spreading process within other host’s.

How does the body respond to the pathogen?

Malaria is a severe disease that enters and spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream. Once the Pathogen has infected the blood cells, an immune reaction is triggered, which naturally causes an immune defence. Immune cells are released to attack and kill the parasites to protect the body. If the disease further progresses, it may cause the immune system’s response to escalate, leading to the body’s exaggerated defence response. This can cause the body to damage its tissue.



The human body’s immune system has three main lines of defence against diseases such as Malaria. These lines of protection include physical and chemical barriers, non-specific innate responses, and specific adaptive responses. The first line of defence is the body’s physical barrier, skin, and hair, whose primary purpose is to keep any foreign cells or objects out of the body. Also in the first line of defence is the bodies chemical barrier which includes antimicrobial proteins that harm or destroy invaders and cells that attack invaders. The body’s second line of defence is a non-specific innate response not specific to a particular pathogen. The third line of defence, a typical adaptive response is antibodies certain to the Pathogen presented. However, sometimes these three lines of defence are not enough to fight the virus, which can cause it to be fatal.

is malaria still prevalent?

Malaria is still prevalent in many developing countries, the majority located in tropical/sub-tropical areas. In Australia, approximately 500 cases of Malaria are diagnosed annually, many of which individuals have travelled to Malaria prone countries and have not taken the medications necessary to prevent infection. 

How can malaria be treated?

Malaria, unfortunately, lacks many widely available vaccines merely because it’s a very complex parasite with an intricate life cycle. There is a remarkable absence of understanding of the genetically complex malaria parasite; this creates numerous obstacles when creating a vaccine for Malaria. The current medication on the market predominately consists of prescription drug’s that kill the parasite, although several factors contribute to the treatment of Malaria. The type of drugs and the length of treatment will vary, determined by age, the severity of symptoms, whether you’re pregnant, and the type of Malaria parasite you have. The most commonly used anti-malarial drugs include Chloroquine phosphate and Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs).

How can we prevent the spread of Malaria?

When travelling to a developing country, it’s essential to talk to your provider about the necessary steps needed to prevent the spread of Malaria. Frequently, drugs are prescribed that require taking before, during and after your stay. Less drastic measures include avoiding mosquito bites, applying mosquito repellant, draping mosquito netting over your bed (especially if you’re sleeping in an environment easily accessible to mosquitos), and wearing long clothing at night to cover your skin. 

Different types of Malaria

Plasmodium Falciparum: Plasmodium Falciparum is one of the most severe types of Malaria. The Pathogen rapidly multiplies in the bloodstream, which can result in anemia (severe blood loss). The parasites may also clog small blood vessels in the brain, which can consequently cause fatal complications in the cerebral.

Plasmodium Malariae: Plasmodium Malariae is one of the less severe types of Malaria. It causes common flu-like symptoms and fever, chills, headache, discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and muscle or joint pain.

Plasmodium vivax: Plasmodium Vivax is considered one of the most dangerous types of Malaria. It can cause impaired consciousness, a state where consciousness has been affected by damage to the brain. It may also cause difficulty in breathing, multiple convulsions, shock, and or bleeding.

Plasmodium ovale: Plasmodium Ovale affects individuals mildly, and it can cause red blood cells to enlarge, typically round to oval, and sometimes fimbriated. Some symptoms of this type include fever, chills, sweats, headache, nausea, vomiting and body aches.

Plasmodium knowlesi: Plasmodium knowlesi malaria is very similar to Plasmodium Falciparum; therefore, it's seen as a severe type of Malaria. It causes many similar symptoms, such as shortness of breath, abdominal pain, and vomiting. As the disease progresses, the parasites multiply, causing extremely high levels of parasites in the blood, leading to kidney injury, jaundice, shock, and difficulty breathing.