Can Malaria Kill You? Can You Survive Malaria?

  • Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Ask the experts

How serious is malaria? Is malaria dangerous? Can you survive malaria? Can malaria kill you?

Doctor's response

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.

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REFERENCES:

Khuu, Diana, Mark L. Eberhard, Benjamin N. Bristow, Marjan Javanbakht, Lawrence R. Ash, Shira C. Shafir, and Frank J. Sorvillo. "Malaria-Related Hospitalizations in the United States, 2000-2014." The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 97.1 July 2017: 213-221.

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>.

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Reviewed on 10/3/2018