Short malaria facts: Debunking myths and misconceptions

Posted on April 25, 2024

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that still has many myths, lies, and misconceptions about it. This short article debunks five of the most common ones that people in endemic and non-endemic areas must know.

Myth 1: Malaria isn’t fatal

No! The truth is malaria can be fatal. Not every case of malaria is fatal, of course, in fact, the majority of cases are not, if treated in time, but malaria can kill. Early diagnosis and rapid treatment are important.

Myth 2: Malaria is contagious or ingested

No! Malaria is not contagious and does not spread like the flu or cold, it cannot be sexually transmitted, and it is not ingested through the food or water we consume. Malaria is transmitted through an infected female Anopheles mosquito bite. Only females bite, because they need the protein in the blood for egg development. Two other ways to get infected is through blood transfusion or organ transplantation from a patient with malaria.

Myth 3: Once sick, you become immune

No! Malaria can occur multiple times, in a single person. If you had malaria before, you can get it again if an infected mosquito bites you. People who have grown up in malaria-endemic areas, especially if exposed as children, may gain some protection, but they can still get the disease. They must still be careful. Spending long periods of time in malaria-free areas makes these people more susceptible for infection again.

Myth 4: There is no malaria in the dry season

No! The risk of being bitten remains regardless of the season. In tropical regions with distinct wet and dry seasons, mosquito activity may vary slightly. This does not mean that the mosquitoes are absent. Mosquitoes do not suddenly disappear once the drier season starts. You are still at risk of being bitten. Remain vigilant when in a risk area.

Myth 5: One minute/ hour/ day in a high-risk area is safe

No! It only takes one bite from one infected mosquito at any time to contract malaria. A high-risk malaria area is a high-risk area regardless of the length of time spent in it. It is true that the chance of getting bitten by an infected mosquito increases the longer you spend in that region. But you may get bitten five minutes upon entering a risk area.

The risks are the same for everyone! Remember the above, and maybe one day you will save a life. It might even be your own.

Bonus myth: My country is malaria-free

No! Your province / region where you live might be malaria-free, but other parts of your country may be low-risk or even a high-risk area. Some countries are entirely no risk, with some high-risk throughout, or a combination. When traveling, make sure you check the status of the country area you are going to. If you are unsure if the area where you live is malaria free, find out! Yes, South Africa has malaria in the north-eastern parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo province.


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