Eradicating malaria myths: It is no monsoon malady, has no vaccine

India and Myanmar, which together with Indonesia contribute over 90% of malaria cases and deaths in the region, are making significant progress in malaria control. The marked improvement is an encouraging sign, but to eradicate malaria completely, we need to first do away with the myths.
Hindustan Times | By Deekshita Baruah, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 25, 2015 07:48 PM IST

According to the latest report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), since 2000 malaria mortality rates have decreased by 47% worldwide. It is estimated that more than four million malaria-related deaths have been averted, approximately 97% of which have been children under five.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia Region, says, "In the South East Asia region, between 2000 to 2013, the confirmed malaria cases have decreased from 2.9 million to 1.5 million and the reported malaria deaths decreased from 5,500 to 776. India and Myanmar, which together with Indonesia contribute over 90% of malaria cases and deaths in the region, are also making significant progress in malaria control."

The marked improvement is an encouraging sign, but to eradicate malaria completely, we need to do away with the myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1: Malaria does not recur
Dr KK Aggarwal, hon. secretary general, Indian Medical Association and president of Heart Care Foundation of India says, "One should know that even after someone is completely cured of the disease, the risk of relapse remains. Depending on the type of malaria, one should continue anti plasmodium therapy for three to five days. It will help in the complete elimination of the parasite from the body."

The parasite generally has a tendency of remaining dormant in the liver and returns once the person's immune system has been compromised. Also, precautions need to be taken so that the patient is not bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito.

Myth#2: Malaria inflicts only the poor, and in monsoons
Dr Neeraj Kumar Tulara, consultant, general medicine, Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai, says, "Though it is common during the monsoons, malaria can happen anytime during the year. We have many cases on malaria even in April."

Tulara suggests that whenever someone has high fever and shivering, they should consult a doctor immediately. Another myth associated with malaria is that it is the disease of the poor. Well, malaria can happen to anyone. Mosquitoes can breed in any place with stagnant water.

Malaria, if ignored, can lead to heart attack. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Myth #3: Malaria does not affect reproductive health
Dr Kaberi Banerjee, IVF and Infertility expert and clinical director, Advance Fertility & Gynecological Center says, "People believe that malaria does not have significant effects on reproductive health. Although rare, malaria can hamper semen quality in males and increase miscarriage risks in females."

She further adds, "When a man suffers from high-grade fever during malaria, he may suffer from severe azoospermia (no measurable level of sperm in semen), necrozoospermia (sperm in semen is either dead or immobile) or oligospermia (low sperm count). However, in most of the cases, recovery occurs once the person is cured. In some cases, they also hamper the egg quality in females."

Myth#4: Malaria occurs on the same day you get bitten
Dr Aggarwal says, "Malaria usually occurs only 8-10 days after the mosquito bites the patient."

Malaria should be suspected in patients with any febrile illness. The initial symptoms and signs of malaria are nonspecific and may also include high pulse rate, high respiratory rate, chills, rigors, malaise, fatigue, sweating, headache, cough, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, joint pains and muscular pains.

Myth#5: Malaria symptom is only high fever
Dr D S Chadha, associate director, Internal Medicine, Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital says, "No chills doesn't mean no malaria. Also, it is a myth that malaria fever comes at a particular time of the day."

If someone has high fever (more than 102 degree) and body ache for 2-3 days, it is advisable to consult a doctor immediately. Malaria, if ignored, can also lead to heart attack.

Myth#6: Malaria can be prevented by vaccine and anti-malarial tablet
At present, there is no vaccine available in the market that can provide complete protection from malaria. A pharmaceutical major is working on a vaccine though.

Dr Pankaj Aggarwal, senior homoeopath, Aggarwal Homoeo Clinic says, "Although some vaccines had been used in the research, the results were not promising. We have to wait for a safe and effective vaccine. Moreover, no anti-malarial medication is 100% effective. Most of them are around 80-95% effective, which means you could easily get malaria while you're taking anti-malarial medications."

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