Malaria medication and prevention

Malaria is different from other diseases in that it is not necessarily preventable via vaccination. Malaria does not confer so-called sterile immunity, which means if you become ill from malaria and recover, you can still be infected any time you come back in contact with it. Thus, your immune system’s response to malaria in the past does not prevent future infections.

The complexity of the disease itself means there is no current acceptable malaria vaccine that fully prevents against the disease itself.

However, there are anti-malaria pills that can help prevent people from contracting the disease when they are travelling to areas of the world where the disease is most prevalent. These types of antimalarials kill the malaria parasites when they’re in your liver or red blood cells, before they have a chance to turn into a full-blown malarial episode.

Even though you can still get malaria if you’ve taken anti-malaria medication, taking antimalarials reduces the chances of getting sick by almost 90 percent. This type of medication should be used alongside preventive measures, like using insect repellant, wearing long sleeves and pants, as well as using mosquito netting.

What is malaria?

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. The symptoms of malaria are usually flu-like, but without proper treatment those same effects can be long-term and sometimes fatal.

There are roughly 100 types of the Plasmodium parasite that cause malaria, and the parasite can infect a variety of species. They all replicate at different rates, which affects both how quickly symptoms can escalate and the severity of the disease once a person is infected.

However, there are only five types of the parasite that can infect humans, and they are found in different parts of the world.

Where is malaria found?         

Malaria is usually found in warmer regions of the world, in tropical and subtropical countries. The higher temperatures of these areas allow the disease-carrying mosquitos to thrive. The malaria parasites, which grow and develop inside the mosquito, need warmth to complete their growth before they are mature enough to be transmitted to humans.

Malaria occurs in more than 100 countries and territories. About half of the world’s population is at risk. Large areas of Africa and South Asia and parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Oceania are considered areas where malaria transmission occurs.

What causes malaria?  

The cause of malaria is pretty straightforward. Infected mosquitoes carry the Plasmodium parasite, and when it bites a human they release that parasite into the bloodstream, causing malaria transmission from the insect to a human.

Once the parasites enter the body, they settle in the liver where they mature over the course of several days. Then the mature parasites enter the bloodstream where they begin to infect healthy red blood cells.

Within a few days, the parasites inside the red blood cells multiply, causing the infected cells to burst open.

The parasites continue to infect red blood cells, resulting in symptoms that occur in cycles that last 2–3 days at a time.

Is malaria contagious? 

Malaria is not contagious, and is not spread from person to person in any way, so those fearing malaria transmission through casual contact or kissing have nothing to be afraid of. Malaria is also not considered a sexually transmitted disease. Malaria is only transmitted from mosquitoes to humans.

What are the symptoms of malaria?

Malaria is generally characterized by a host of distinct symptoms that can be easily identified. The signs and symptoms of malaria are generally recurring, and can include the following:

  • Moderate-to-severe shaking and chills
  • High fever
  • Sweating

Other symptoms of malaria may include:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Malaria signs and symptoms typically begin within a few weeks after transmission from an infected mosquito. However, there are some types of malaria parasites that can lie dormant in the body for up to a year.

Malaria treatments

Blood tests administered by medical professionals can identify the presence of the malaria parasite. From there, they can help tailor a specific malaria treatment by determining:

  • Whether the person has malaria
  • Which type of malaria is causing the symptoms
  • If the infection is caused by a parasite resistant to certain drugs
  • Whether the disease is affecting any of your vital organs

Once these things have been determined, the types of drugs and the length of treatment used to treat the disease will vary, depending on which type of malaria parasite is responsible, the severity of the symptoms, age and whether the person is pregnant.

Is there a vaccine for malaria? 

Medical professionals have been working on developing specific vaccines for malaria for many years. But there is currently no effective vaccine that confers lifelong protection.

This complexity of the parasite means that developing a malaria vaccine is very difficult, and currently there are no commercially available malaria vaccines. While many vaccine constructs are currently being evaluated in clinical trials or are in advanced pre-clinical development, none are commercially viable so far. However, there are anti-malaria pills and medication that can be taken by people travelling to areas with increased exposure to malaria.

Antimalarial drugs and medications

The most common antimalarials include:

  • Chloroquine (Aralen)
  • Quinine sulfate (Qualaquin)
  • Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil)
  • Mefloquine
  • A combination of atovaquone and proguanil (Malarone)

How antimalarial drugs work

If you’re travelling to a malaria-prone area, your doctor will direct you to take the antimalarial medication before, during and anywhere from 1–4 weeks after travel. This is because the parasites that cause malaria can linger in the body long after you’ve been bitten. Antimalarial drugs kill malaria parasites when they’re in your liver or red blood cells and before they can no longer be controlled.

Where can you get antimalarial medication?

For many years, Pharmaca has been offering many immunizations and medications recommended by the CDC for certain health concerns and before travel abroad for many years. Talk to your doctor about any upcoming travel that may require antimalarials. We accept most major insurance providers so that your prescriptions can be convenient and affordable.

Contact your local Pharmaca pharmacy to learn more.