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Malaria is a potentially fatal disease caused by an infection with Plasmodium parasites. In most cases, the disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Symptoms may include fever, chills, and diarrhea. Malaria is treated with medications; when treatment is started early enough, the disease can be cured.

What Is Malaria?

Malaria is a leading cause of death and disease worldwide, especially in developing countries. Each year, an estimated 300 to 500 million cases occur, and more than 1 million people die of the disease annually. Although malaria can be a fatal disease, in many cases, death can be prevented with proper and prompt treatment.

Causes of Malaria

The cause of malaria is an infection with a parasite. Plasmodium is the name for the species of microscopic parasites that cause the disease (see Malaria Causes). There are over 100 species of Plasmodium, which can infect animal species, such as:
  • Reptiles
  • Birds
  • Various mammals.
Only four species of Plasmodium infect humans in nature. These four types include:
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium ovale
  • Plasmodium malariae.

How Is It Transmitted?

Malaria is usually transmitted through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Less commonly, the disease is spread through contact with infected blood.
Malaria is not transmitted from person to person, like the common cold or the flu. You cannot get the disease from casual contact with infected people.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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