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JAMA Patient Page
November 10, 2010


JAMA. 2010;304(18):2084. doi:10.1001/jama.304.18.2084

Malaria is a potentially deadly disease caused by infection with the microscopic parasite Plasmodium. Plasmodium is transmitted to humans through bites from Anopheles mosquitoes infected with the parasite. According to the World Health Organization, malaria is present in more than 100 countries—mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Each year there are about 250 million cases of malaria, and nearly 1 million people die of the disease. Children and pregnant women are especially at risk of malaria. The November 10, 2010, issue of JAMA includes an article about diagnosing malaria. This Patient Page is based on one previously published in the May 23/30, 2007, issue.


Symptoms usually appear about 9 to 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

  • Sudden, violent chills

  • Intermittent fever

  • Sweating

  • Exhaustion

  • Headaches

  • Seizures

  • Delirium

Diagnosis and treatment

  • Malaria is best diagnosed by using a microscope to identify the Plasmodium parasites in a blood sample.

  • Malaria is treated with drugs that interfere with the parasite's life cycle or metabolism.

  • If you think you have malaria, seek medical treatment immediately.


Prevention is based on avoiding exposure to mosquitoes and aggressively treating people who are infected. Malaria control programs in many parts of the world are underfunded and ineffective. If you are traveling to an area where malaria is common, take antimalarial drugs exactly as prescribed by your physician and prevent mosquito bites by

  • Closing windows at night if possible

  • Sleeping with a mosquito net, preferably one containing an insecticide, with the edges tucked under the mattress

  • Covering up your body as much as possible with clothing

  • Applying an insect repellent to areas of the body not covered by clothing

For more information

Inform yourself

To find this and other JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at Many are available in English and Spanish.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.