How does Malaria affect the Red Blood Cells?

Updated at: Nov 18, 2013
How does Malaria affect the Red Blood Cells?

Malaria parasites multiply in the infected person's liver before invading RBCs in the bloodstream. Inside the red blood cells (RBCs), these multiply and spread the infection.

Himanshu Sharma
Blood DiseasesWritten by: Himanshu SharmaPublished at: Nov 18, 2013

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. Every year, 3.3 billion people are at risk of malaria.

malaria red blood cellsMalaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites that are spread through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquito vectors. After infection, the parasites travel through the bloodstream to the liver where they mature. Thereafter, the parasites enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells.


How does Malaria affect the Red Blood Cell

The researchers at MIT, the Institute Pasteur and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have found a protein called RESA that causes cell membranes to stiffen within 24 hours of infection. This rigidity impairs the ability of a red blood cell to travel through blood vessels.

A mosquito becomes infected by feeding on a person who has malaria. When the same mosquito bites someone else, he/she can be infected. After a person is bitten by mosquito carrying malaria, there may not be any symptoms for one week to one month. During this phase, the malaria parasites multiply in the person's liver before invading red blood cells in the bloodstream. Inside a person’s red blood cells (RBCs), these multiply and spread the infection.

Eventually, RBCs rupture and the person experiences flu-like symptoms such as sweating (not normal perspiration, but profuse), high fever and nausea. Those infected with malaria may experience some sort of symptom that involves their digestive system, which manifests as vomiting or diarrhoea. Thereafter, a patient’s liver may enlarge. In some cases, it may cause anaemia, jaundice and neurological problems. A malaria patient may also experience pain that is generally located in the muscles and moves into the lower back. If you are in a high-risk area, you must watch these symptoms closely.

As the parasites that cause malaria affect red blood cells, healthy people can also catch malaria from exposure to infected blood. The modes of transmission can be from mother to unborn child, drug needles and blood transfusions.


Diagnosis and Treatment

If malaria goes untreated, it becomes deadly. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment of malaria helps to prevent deaths. If you believe you are infected with malaria and your symptoms are severe, see a doctor. Blood samples are usually taken with a six hour interval between each test to confirm the diagnosis. These samples are examined at a laboratory for the presence of the parasite that causes malaria.

After malaria is diagnosed, there may be a need for transfusions of red blood cells, administering oxygen, antibiotics and IV fluids. You may be prescribed drugs such as sulfadoxone, clindamycin or chloroquine to help treat your condition and prevent future outbreaks of malaria symptoms. For severe cases of malaria, kidney dialysis may be required.

As of now, there is still no malaria vaccine approved for human use. Treatments for malaria usually eliminate the parasite relatively quickly, but it may take several weeks for your body to recover from the condition. For weeks, you may feel weak and tired. This happens because your body replaces blood cells damaged by the parasite.


Read more articles on Malaria.




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