What is malaria?

January 17, 2020

Malaria is one of the most dangerous travel infectious diseases. It is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito, a genus of mosquitoes. A distinction is made between five different malaria pathogens, which are also called plasmodia and cause different types of the disease. The most common Malaria infections take place daily between 10 pm. and 2 am. Malaria is not contagious and therefore cannot be transmitted from person to person.

According to the WHO (World Malaria Report 2018), 219 million cases and 435,000 deaths are recorded annually, which means 1,200 deaths per day., The most common disease here is Malaria Tropica and the second is Malaria Tertiana. More and more people are traveling to countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Thailand and Vietnam and should consider a proper protection against Malaria.

Symptoms of Malaria

The Malaria incubation period ranges from 6 days to several months, sometimes years, which is why the symptoms are not always associated with malaria. Typical symptoms of Malaria resemble flu and include:


  • Fever
  • Headache and body aches
  • Back pain
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Rarely vomiting and diarrhea


Furthermore, it can lead to an enlargement of the liver and spleen and blood count change, as well as pain in the right upper stomach.

However, the following life-threatening symptoms of malaria, which are referred to as malaria tropica, may also occur: shortness of breath, seizures, organ failure, blood clots, anemia, irregular course of the fever, impaired consciousness and poor performance.

what is malaria

If you suspect malaria, you should definitely have a medical diagnosis made. Malaria infection should be considered up to 2 years after staying in a malaria area, your assistance in a medical examination is required.

Malaria pathogens

Malaria is a parasitic disease and not a virus disease, as many people assume. The pathogens of malaria are 5 different plasmodia:

  • Plasmodium malaria
  • Plasmodium ovale
  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium flaciparum
  • Plasmodium knowlesi

These pathogens are transmitted via the saliva of a female Anopheles mosquito. The plasmodia are passed through the bloodstream into human liver cells, where they divide and multiply. After 1 to 2 weeks, the malaria pathogens, sporozoites, have infected the liver cells to such an extent that they cause them to burst. This causes the cells to return to the bloodstream, where they attack the red blood cells (erythrocytes) and also cause them to burst - triggering the symptoms of malaria.

Plasmodium malariae

Plasmodium malariae triggers a form of malaria called "malaria quartana" and is usually a harmless form of malaria. Unless you have a weakened immune system, there should be no danger to life.

This pathogen is common in the Sahara in Africa, in the amazon rainforest in South America and in Southeast Asia.

Plasmodium oval

The pathogen Plasmodium oval triggers malaria tertiana and is one of the harmless infections. The main distribution areas are: Coastal areas in western Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and partly also in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Plasmodium vivax

Plasmodium vivax is also one of the benign pathogens of the disease. However, since this pathogen is very common, it is responsible for many malaria deaths.


This pathogen often occurs in coastal areas in tropical and subtropical zones such as South America and the western Pacific.

Plasmodium falciparum

The parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is the cause of the deadly disease "Malaria tropica" and  therefore is the most important pathogen.

Plasmodium knowlesi

The pathogen Plasmodium knowlesi is a special form of malaria. This pathogen was initially detected in monkeys, but this does not exclude a human infection. Transmission of this parasite is dangerous and is mainly observed in forest areas in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

How to prophylaxis malaria

Malaria prophylaxis

Malaria prophylaxis consists of exposure prophylaxis and drug prophylaxis.

As exposure prophylaxis, the focus is on avoiding mosquito bites. A screen should be attached to the windows and, at best, sleep under a mosquito net. Mosquitoes are not fans of air conditioning systems. Do not stay outside at dark. If this cannot be avoided, spray yourself extensively with a mosquito spray and cover most of your skin.

When travelling to a malaria area, it is often recommended to take medication or take an emergency medicine. There are many different drugs that have different mechanisms of action. Your doctor will choose the most suitable medicine for you.

Treatment for malaria can be prescribed by your doctor and deviates from the preventive medications.

Doxycycline is one of the medications which can help to treat malaria.

The cost of malaria prophylaxis depends on which drug you choose, how long you travel and what exposure prophylaxis you use.

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