Infectious Diseases

What type of microbe causes malaria?

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July 26, 2013 8:55PM

'Protozoans' is the term usually used to talk about the protists that cause malaria in humans or in other vertebrate erythrocytes. Protozoa belong to a large group of eukaryotic organisms that are single-celled. These are usually microscopic and include amoeba, ciliates, flagellates and sporozoans. In malaria, the protozoans can also be called 'malaria parasites.'


The sporozoan protozoa that cause malaria are transmitted through a mosquito feeding upon the blood of an infected host and ingesting a number of these parasites. The protozoa develop within the mosquito and are secreted through its saliva to infect other potential hosts when bitten. Once inside a human (or other vertebrate erythrocyte hosts), they can spend a protracted period (from weeks or months to, potentially, years) inside the host's liver and spleen, where they reproduce in the blood (specifically, within the red blood cells, erythrocytes).

Malaria is a vector-borne infectious disease caused by any of a number of protozoans spread by the female Anopheles mosquito. Only Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria, and they must have been infected through a previous blood meal taken from an infected host. It is common in tropical and subtropical climates in endemic areas including much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Americas. These locations have significant amounts of rain fall and consistent hot temperatures. These warm, consistent temperatures and moisture provide mosquitoes with the environment they need to breed continuously year round.

Scientific names:

The causative organisms include protists of the genus Plasmodium. The three most common organisms in malaria infections are P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. falciparum. Falciparum malaria is the most serious of the three, causing about 80% of all cases of human malaria and 90% of deaths, and is becoming more frequently drug resistant. Another less common type of Plasmodium that can cause malaria is P. malariae. A fifth type, P. knowlesi, is not thought to infect humans.


To prevent the disease, a person in the areas where these mosquitoes live should reduce the number of bites they receive. Mosquito netting used around beds can reduce the number of mosquitoes and bites and mosquito repellents also help.


Symptoms of malaria are fever, shivering, joint pain, vomiting, anemia, hemoglobinuria (when your urine turns red), retinal damage, and convulsions. The classic symptom of malaria is occurrence of sudden coldness followed by rigors (shaking), then fever and sweating lasting four to six hours, which occurs every two days.

Other facts:

  1. Plasmodium falciparum - the common African type affects 80 - 85% of malaria patients, and is the most severe form of malaria. P. falciparum is also called a 'malign tertian malaria', malign means "evil", and this is the type which most often kills humans.
  2. Plasmodium vivax - Milder than Falciparum, is the second most common species to cause the disease malaria. It is also called 'benign tertian malaria', benign means "good", and this type usually doesn't kill humans.
  3. Each year, there are approximately 515 million cases of malaria, killing between one and three million people, the majority of whom are young children in Africa. Young children are more prone to getting Malaria than adults are.
  4. Ninety percent of malaria-related deaths occur in Africa. Malaria is commonly associated with poverty, but is also a cause of poverty.
  5. Malaria is one of the most common infectious diseases and an enormous public health problem.
  6. Malaria is a disease which kills a child every 30 seconds across Africa.