Falciparum malaria is the severest variety of malaria, a parasitic infection that is usually transmitted through mosquito bites. Infected individuals are prone to severe illness or even death within a few hours of exposure to the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. Immediate hospitalization and treatment are vital in order to give an infected individual the best chances of survival. The condition is widespread, though people who live or travel through tropical areas of Africa, Asia, and South and Central America are at the highest risk of infection.
Mosquitoes of the Anopheles genus transmit the Plasmodium falciparum parasite between humans. When a person is bitten by a mosquito, young parasites travel to the liver where they quickly develop and invade the bloodstream. Falciparum malaria can become widespread in the body in a matter of hours after infection, leading to a host of health problems. The first signs of falciparum malaria infection include nausea, vomiting, chills, and severe fever. An individual may suffer a debilitating headache, experience severe mental confusion, or even lose consciousness as the condition worsens.
Falciparum malaria is a life-threatening illness in everyone, though young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are at a significantly increased risk of death. A person who shows signs of malarial infection should be brought to an emergency room as soon as possible so doctors can make a quick diagnosis and begin administering treatment. A blood sample is taken and analyzed to determine the specific parasitic agent involved. When Plasmodium falciparum is found, the patient is usually placed in an intensive care unit and given intravenous drugs and fluids.
Doctors carefully monitor a patient's breathing and heart rate, and supply mechanical ventilation if necessary. He or she is given medications to thicken the blood, reduce pain and swelling, and attack parasites in the blood and liver. The patient usually needs to be kept in the hospital for several days or weeks, even if symptoms subside, to ensure the parasite is completely eradicated. If treatment measures are successful, an individual can expect a full recovery in a couple of months.
There are no reliable vaccines to prevent falciparum malaria infection, and the parasite continues to evolve resistance to existing drugs. People who plan on traveling to malaria-susceptible areas can obtain oral or injected medications from their doctors to be taken before, during, and after their trips to reduce the risk of infection. Information about current statistics on malaria outbreaks and geographic dispersal can be found by visiting credible government Web sites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.