Malaria is a serious, life-threatening disease caused by a single-celled parasite from the genus Plasmodium. It usually spreads to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes found in tropical countries.

If you get infected, symptoms typically start within two weeks and can range from mild to life-threatening. Mild symptoms include fever, chills and headache, while more severe ones include fatigue, confusion, seizures and difficulty breathing.

Some types of malaria may cause life-threatening symptoms and even death. Those most at risk from the severe form of the disease are infants, children under five years of age, pregnant women and people with HIV or AIDS. Aside from the symptoms listed above, there may also be impaired consciousness, dark or bloody urine, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin) and abnormal bleeding. People with severe symptoms need immediate emergency care.

If you develop malaria during pregnancy, it can cause premature delivery or low birth weight of your baby.

You can only get infected by a mosquito bite and, in rare cases, by blood transfusion and contaminated needles. The infection does not spread from person to person, even if you’re in close contact.

Malaria can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites. Use mosquito nets when sleeping, place window screens in your windows, use mosquito repellents (containing DEET, IR3535 or Icaridin) – especially after dusk, use mosquito deterrents, such as coils and vaporisers and wear protective clothing.

If you’re travelling to areas where malaria is common, you can also take medicines that prevent the infection. Discuss this with your doctor as you would have to start the treatment a few weeks before you go.

If you do develop malaria, early diagnosis and treatment reduces the severity of the disease. Only parasite-based diagnostic testing can confirm the presence of the infection. Your doctor will decide what treatment is best for you as there are several options.There are also two vaccines that can protect against malaria but as they are still relatively new, they are not widely available (yet).