JOHANNESBURG - After a recent outbreak of malaria in Limpopo, having more information about the disease could prevent serious or fatal consequences.
Malaria occurs in the low-lying areas of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal; however, transmission is uncommon in the winter months
When the malaria parasite enters the blood stream, it infects and destroys red blood cells, resulting in fever and flu-like symptoms.
In a non-immune individual, symptoms appear seven days or more (usually 10–15 days) after the infective mosquito bite.
The first symptoms – fever, headache, chills and vomiting – may be mild and difficult to recognise as malaria. If not treated within 24 hours, Plasmodium falciparum malaria (the most prevalent parasite that causes malignant malaria in humans) can progress to severe illness, often leading to death.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) factsheet, children with severe malaria frequently develop one or more of the following symptoms: severe anaemia (insufficient healthy red blood cells), respiratory distress in relation to metabolic acidosis (an over accumulation of acid in the body), or cerebral malaria.
In adults, multi-organ involvement is also frequent.
In malaria-endemic areas, people may develop partial immunity, allowing asymptomatic infections to occur (i.e showing no noticeable symptoms).
"Partial immunity is developed over years of exposure, and while it never provides complete protection, it does reduce the risk that malaria infection will cause severe disease," the South African National Travel Health Network stated.
"For this reason, most malaria deaths in Africa occur in young children, whereas in areas with less transmission and low immunity, all age groups are at risk."
Pregnant women should stay away from areas where malaria outbreaks have been reported.
Only a blood test can reveal whether you are infected or not and doctors say the first 24-hours of treatment are crucial.
There is no vaccine against malaria, but, doctors are able to prescribe medication (a "prophylaxis") to prevent the disease.