Efforts are made across the globe to control malaria, and on World Malaria Day, they are recognised every year on April 25. The disease should not be taken lightly as two years ago, almost half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria, according to World Health Organization. In 2021, there were nearly 250 million cases of malaria worldwide, with the estimated number of deaths standing at 619,000. If that worries you as a mother, know the signs of malaria in kids.
For World Malaria Day 2023, Health Shots connected with Dr Vaishali Lokhande, Consultant General Medicine, Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai, to know about common signs of malaria in kids.
What is malaria?
A mosquito bite may seem to be harmless most of the time, but not all are. Malaria is a parasitic infection that is caused by Plasmodium species, which gets transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, says Dr Lokhande. The most common species that infect humans are Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium malariae, and Plasmodium knowlesi. Once the parasite enters our body, it infects and destroys our red blood cells.
Signs of malaria in kids
Symptoms of malaria in children can be similar to the ones that we get to see in adults. But there are some differences in the signs and symptoms that can help distinguish it from other illnesses like Covid-19 and H3N2 influenza. Malaria symptom in children can include:
• Muscle aches
In some cases, children with malaria may also have seizures, altered mental status, and difficulty breathing, says the expert. One of the key differences between malaria in children and adults is the severity of the symptoms. Children are more likely to experience severe symptoms and complications from malaria than adults. In part, it’s because their immune systems are not fully developed, making them more vulnerable to infections. Children with malaria may also have anemia, which can cause fatigue, weakness, and pale skin. In severe cases, malaria can cause a condition called cerebral malaria, which affects the brain and can cause coma or even death.
Ways to treat malaria
Treating malaria is not just about giving a specific medicine to the affected person. Many factors such as the species of Plasmodium parasite that is causing the infection, the severity of the disease, and the person’s age and overall health status, are considered. There are antimalarial medications, which are specifically designed to target the parasite responsible for the infection. The most effective medications for treating malaria include artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). These therapies combine an artemisinin derivative with another antimalarial medication like lumefantrine or mefloquine, to increase their effectiveness and reduce the risk of drug resistance.
If your child has malaria, the little one may also require supportive care to manage symptoms and prevent complications. So, there may be need for the use of antipyretics to reduce fever. Fluids and electrolyte replacement can help to manage dehydration. There may be need for blood transfusions in cases of severe anemia.
Tips to protect kids from malaria
Mothers can take several measures to prevent their children from getting malaria. These measures include:
1. Using insecticide-treated bed nets
Bed nets that are treated with insecticide can be hung over a child’s bed to protect them from mosquito bites while they sleep. It is essential to ensure that the bed net is in good condition and properly treated with insecticide.
2. Applying mosquito repellent
Mosquito repellents containing picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus can be applied to the skin and clothing to repel mosquitoes. There are natural mosquito repellents that you can always try.
3. Wearing protective clothing
Children should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, particularly during times of the day when mosquitoes are most active.
4. Avoiding mosquito bites
Mothers should encourage their children to avoid mosquito bites by staying indoors during peak mosquito activity times (usually dusk and dawn), using air conditioning or fans to keep mosquitoes away, and keeping windows and doors closed or screened.
5. Taking antimalarial medication
If you are travelling to an area where malaria is endemic, mothers should consult with a doctor to determine if their child should take prophylactic medication to prevent malaria, suggests the expert.
You must remember that mosquitoes breed in standing water, so it is important to eliminate it around the house. If you have stagnant water in flower pots, buckets or puddles, it’s time to get rid of it.