The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

The National Academies

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease


Humans become infected with malaria, a serious and sometimes fatal disease, when they are bitten by a mosquito carrying one of the following four parasites: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, or P. malariae. About 1,500 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. Most are travelers or immigrants returning to the United States from places where malaria transmission occurs, including sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The World Health Organization estimates that in 2008 between 190 and 311 million clinical cases of malaria occurred, and between 708,000 and 1,003,000 people died from the disease, most of them children in Africa. Because malaria mostly affects the world’s poorer nations, it is part of the reason many of these countries are caught in a vicious cycle of disease and poverty.

Symptoms of malaria are similar to those for the flu—high fever, shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. The parasites multiply inside red blood cells, causing the cells to burst open within 48 to 72 hours. The loss of red blood cells causes anemia and jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin and eyes). If not treated promptly, the infection can become severe and may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death.

Malaria can be cured with prescription drugs. The type of drugs and length of treatment depend on the type of malaria, the infection site, age, pregnancy status, and severity of illness at the start of treatment.

There are effective prescription drugs to prevent as well as treat malaria infection. Typically, a health care provider will recommend a drug based on an individual’s travel plans, medical history, age, drug allergies, pregnancy status, and other factors. The CDC has a list of all the places in the world where malaria transmission occurs and the malaria drugs that are recommended for each place.

In some afflicted countries, public health efforts, such as the development of artemisinin-based drugs, distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, and indoor residual spraying of insecticides, have reduced the number of malaria deaths.


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What do you know about infectious disease?

Which are larger?

  • Correct!

    Bacteria are 10 to 100 times larger than viruses.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Bacteria are 10 to 100 times larger than viruses.

Infectious Disease Defined


An organism (usually an arthropod such as a flea, mosquito, or tick) that carries an infectious agent from reservoir to host.

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