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Any of the parasitic protozoans that make up the genus Plasmodium, the cause of malaria. Infecting red blood cells in mammals, birds, and reptiles, plasmodia occur worldwide, especially in tropical and temperate zones. They are transmitted to humans by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. From the bloodstream, young plasmodia enter liver cells, where they divide and form an adult stage that is then released back into the bloodstream and infects red blood cells. Rapid division of the parasites results in the destruction of the red blood cells, which release toxins that cause the periodic chill and fever cycles typical of malaria.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on plasmodium, visit Britannica.com.