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A serious relapsing infection caused by protozoa of the genus Plasmodium (seeplasmodium), transmitted by the bite of the Anophelesmosquito. Known since before the 5th century BC, it occurs in tropical and subtropical regions near swamps. The roles of the mosquito and the parasite were proved in the early 20th century. Annual cases worldwide are estimated at 250 million and deaths at 2 million. Malaria from different Plasmodium species differs in severity, mortality, and geographic distribution. The parasites have an extremely complex life cycle; in one stage they develop synchronously inside red blood cells. Their mass fissions at 48- or 72-hour intervals cause attacks lasting 4–10 hours. Shaking and chills are followed by fever of up to 105 °F (40.6 °C), with severe headache and then profuse sweating as temperature returns to normal. Patients often have anemia, spleen enlargement, and general weakness. Complications can be fatal. Malaria is diagnosed by detecting the parasites in blood. Quinine was long used to alleviate the fevers. Synthetic drugs, such as chloroquine, destroy the parasites in blood cells, but many strains are now resistant. Carriers of a gene for a hemoglobinopathy have natural resistance. Malaria prevention requires preventing mosquito bites: eliminating mosquito breeding places and using insecticides or natural predators, window screens, netting, and insect repellent. See alsoprotozoal disease.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on malaria, visit Britannica.com.