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In a recent post, we talked about how one of Bill Gates’ major goals was to help solve the massive malaria problem that continues to plague third-world countries—he’s donated billions of dollars to the cause. Here’s some general information about malaria:

Even though Anopheles mosquitoes take the brunt of the blame for malaria, they’re not actually the guilty party—that would be protozoans of the Plasmodium genus. These protozoans infect the mosquitoes and end up in their saliva, and when the (usually female) mosquito bites a person, the Plasmodium is introduced into the person’s bloodstream. From there, it travels to the liver, where it grows, spreads, and reproduces—not a pretty picture.

The symptoms of malaria resemble the flu and usually appear 8 to 25 days after initial infection. Fever is the most common symptom. Others include vomiting, headache, and joint pain. The liver is the first stage of malaria infection, and from there it moves to red blood cells—the second stage. For that reason, malaria is usually diagnosed with blood work.

There’s no vaccine for malaria, but if you’re traveling to a country where it’s prevalent, there are several anti-malarial medications that are effective at preventing transmission. In addition, there are effective drugs for people who already have malaria, like quinine. But resistance to these drugs has been increasing in recent years. Further, most of the malaria disease burden is on very poor countries that can’t afford the right medications anyways. Malaria is estimated to cost Africa $12 billion dollars each year.

Mosquito nets, despite being so low-tech, are one of the most effective malaria prevention strategies. The nets are usually sprayed with insecticide, making them even more effective. Another strategy is covering sources of standing water, which are ideal mosquito breeding grounds. Education is also important; it’s critical that people understand the risks of malaria and know the best prevention techniques.

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