Malaria: The Disease

Malaria comes from a parasite…

Malaria is carried by single-celled, wormlike parasites called Plasmodia. Before a mosquito bites a person, they surround the area they are going to bite with a circle of saliva. The Plasmodium parasite lives inside the mosquito’s salivary glands. Plasmodia are small—so small that 50,000 could fit inside a period at the end of a sentence. Several dozen Plasmodia enter the blood stream, but it only takes one to kill a person. The parasite travels through the circulatory system until it reaches and burrows into the person’s liver cells.

There are four different species of malaria parasite that affect humans, but the most prevalent and the most dangerous to humans is Plasmodium falciparum. Plasmodium falciparum is the only species that attacks the brain. In the entire world, half of world’s cases of infection, and 95% of deaths by malaria are caused by Plasmodium falciparum.

Just a bite…



Malaria comes from the bite of a “loaded” Anopheles mosquito. The Anopheles mosquito is the only insect that can carry the human malaria parasite. In fact, it is only the female mosquito that transmits the malaria disease. The female depends on hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, to nourish her eggs.


Malaria transmission is a chain.  A mosquito obtains the Plasmodia when they bite a person who is carrying the parasite. The now “loaded” mosquito then passes the parasite to next person it bites.

A person does not stir as the parasite travels through their body...



Most people are bit at night at night between 12 – 4 am. Mosquitos creep into uncovered windows and attack their unsuspecting victims. The path of the parasite begins with the bite. The Plasmodium leaves the mosquitoes’ salivary glands and enters the person’s circularatory system. The parasite travels through the person’s blood stream until it stops in her liver and burrows into the liver cells. There the Plasmodia eat and multiply…each one 40,000 times. Stretched beyond capacity, the liver finally bursts. The freed parasites then attack and kill the red blood cells. Without the oxygen-carrying red blood cells, the vital organs fail.

Then the signs come...



The child lives unaware as their body struggles against the foreign invader for one to two weeks. But then her temperature rises as her frenzied body struggles to overcome the parasite. What at first seemed to be the flu has morphed into something far more dangerous. High fevers…Shivering…cold sweat…freezing…vomiting…chills…sweat. All the while, the body is raging inside inside. When the fever reaches its peak, the body is so hot it almost boiling itself alive.

At its worst…



It is the falciparum species that invades. Some of the red blood cells grow knobs on their surface and hook onto the brain. Locked onto the brain, these cells are prevented from reaching the spleen, where damaged cells are destroyed. But this attachment causes the worst form of malaria of all. This attachment causes the brain to swell. Cerebral Malaria. The worst kind of all.

It is at this point that the body succumbs...



The parasite destroys so many oxygen-carrying red blood cells that the lungs and brain shut down. The blood becomes too acidic and brain cells die. The child convulses and falls into a coma. In addition to the coma, the child falls prey to life-threatening anemia and brain damage—and seeps deeper and deeper into the clutches of death.

The child is now at the mercy of malaria.

Mothers, fathers, cousins, grandmothers carry children for miles upon miles. They drive, ride, paddle, and run to the nearest clinic. If they reach their destination, they can only hope and pray that it is not too late.