The name “malaria” (meaning bad air in Italian) dates back its origin in 1740 when it was first used by H. Walpole while describing the disease. Later in 1889 Sir Ronald Ross discovered that mosquitoes transmit malaria.
What is malaria ?
It is a common mosquito-borne disease, characterised by fever, chills, sweating fatigue, anaemia and enlarged spleen. It can be a serious illness in babies and young children.
How common is malaria in India? Is malaria seasonal?
Malaria is widespread in India, most common in Maharashtra, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. About 2.5 million malaria cases are reported in South Asia each year. Three quarters of these cases come from India. It occurs all year round, but the number of cases does shoot up during and just after the monsoon season. This is because warm humid weather and stagnant water provide a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.
How does malaria spread in babies ?
It is caused by plasmodium parasites. There are four different stains (plasmodium vivax, plasmodium falciparum, plasmodium ovale, and plasmodium malaria). P falciparum and vivax are common in India. It is spreads by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. The mosquitoes that carry malaria usually bite at night, unlike the mosquitoes that carry dengue or chickungunya that bites during day time. It can also be transmitted through an infected blood transfusion and from the mother to the baby before delivery (congenital malaria).
What are the symptoms of malaria in babies?
Symptoms usually appear at about eight days to three weeks after the infection. These include –
Cough and cold
Irritability and drowsiness
Diarrhoea, often with green stools
Some young children have a low body temperature (hypothermia) instead of a fever
What to do if the baby has symptoms of malaria?
Most of the symptoms are common to flu, dengue, and chikungunya, first step here would be to seek medical advise. If malaria is diagnosed then the baby requires the following-
Plenty of fluids/rest
Medicines to reduce fever
Antimalarial drugs depending upon the type of malaria
If the disease is severe the baby needs to be hospitalized for intravenous drugs and fluids. A child with malaria may be ill for about 7 to 10 days
How to reduce the risk of catching malaria?
As mosquitoes cause this disease, it is important to keep mosquitoes at bay. This can be achieved by
Keeping home and surroundings free of mosquito breeding grounds (stagnant water).
Removing empty containers or old flower pots where water can collect.
Adding a few drops of kerosene oil to coolers, open drains, small ponds and other places where water tends to collect
Other measures include – light clothing as dark color attracts mosquito, wearing long sleeves
Using age appropriate mosquito repellent and mosquito nets while sleeping
Despite being preventable it threatens the lives of about 3.3 billion people around the world. High maternal mortality, low birth weight, and maternal anaemia are also consequences of this devastating disease. To conclude the prime focus should be the prevention of the disease as we all know ‘Prevention is better than cure.’