Ask the experts
How serious is malaria? Is malaria dangerous? Can you survive malaria? Can malaria kill you?
Malaria is a serious, life-threatening, and sometimes fatal, disease spread by mosquitoes and caused by a parasite. Malaria was a significant health risk in the U.S. until it was eliminated by multiple disease-control programs in the late 1940s. The illness presents with flu-like symptoms that include high fever and chills.
There are three necessary aspects to the malaria life cycle:
- The Anopheles mosquito carries the parasite and is where the parasite starts its life cycle.
- The parasite (Plasmodium) has multiple subspecies, each causing a different severity of symptoms and responding to different treatments.
- The parasite first travels to a human's liver to grow and multiply. It then travels in the bloodstream and infects and destroys red blood cells.
If diagnosed early and if the appropriate antimalarials are available and used, the prognosis of malaria is very good.
Worldwide, malaria is responsible for over 400,000 deaths per year. The majority of victims are young children from sub-Saharan Africa. Death is usually due to lack of available treatment or access to treatment.
P. falciparum tends to be the species causing the most complications and has a high mortality if untreated.
Cerebral malaria, a complication of P. falciparum malaria, has a 20% mortality rate even if treated.
Switzerland. World Health Organization. "Malaria." April 2016. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs094/en/>.
Tintinalli, Judith E., ed. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011: 1056-1062.
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Malaria." June 16, 2018. <https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/malaria/index.html>.