Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by protists (a type of microorganism) of the genus Plasmodium. It begins with a bite from an infected female mosquito, which introduces the protists via its saliva into the circulatory system, and ultimately to the liver where they mature and reproduce. The disease causes symptoms that typically include fever and headache, which in severe cases can progress to coma or death. Malaria is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions in a broad band around the equator, including much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Five species of Plasmodium can infect and be transmitted by humans. The vast majority of deaths are caused by P. falciparum while P. vivax, P. ovule, and P. malariae cause a generally milder form of malaria that is rarely fatal. The zoonotic species P. knowlesi, prevalent in Southeast Asia, causes malaria in macaques but can also cause severe infections in humans. Malaria is prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions because rainfall, warm temperatures, and stagnant waters provide habitats ideal for mosquito larvae. Disease transmission can be reduced by preventing mosquito bites by distribution of mosquito nets and insect repellents, or with mosquito-control measures such as spraying insecticides and draining standing water.
Malaria is typically diagnosed by the microscopic examination of blood using blood films, or with antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests. Modern techniques that use the polymerase chain reaction to detect parasite DNA have also been developed, but these are not widely used in malaria-endemic areas due to their cost and complexity. The World Health Organization has estimated that in 2010, there were 216 million documented cases of malaria. That year, between 655,000 and 1.2 million people died from the disease (roughly 2000–3000 per day), many of whom were children in Africa. The actual number of deaths is not known...
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