Malaria Outbreaks and Where to Find Them

admin Invertebrate Zoology

The Disease:

Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes. The symptoms of malaria include: fever, chills, and a flu like illness. If left untreated death is likely. According to the CDC website, “In 2015 an estimated 212 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 429,000 people died, mostly children in the African Region” (CDC). In the United States, the disease is not nearly as common and death is extremely unlikely since there is access to treatment. Additionally, the disease was eliminated in the United States around 1950. Cases in the United States occur because of travel to areas where malaria infection rates are high.

The Parasite:

The parasite responsible for malaria is a protist from super phylum alveolata, phylum apicomplexa. Four species from the genus Plasmodium cause malaria in humans: P. falciparum, P. malariae, P. ovale, and P. vivax. Plasmodium vivax being the most common species to cause the disease.

P. falciparum:

By Photo Credit: Content Providers(s): CDC/Dr. Mae Melvin Transwiki approved by: w:en:User:Dmcdevit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons









P. malariae:

This image is a work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, taken or made as part of an employee’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.











P. ovale:








P. vivax:










Plasmodium can infect birds, reptiles, and mammalsPlasmodium have a three step life cycle. The stages are: gametocytes, sporozoites, and merozoites. The gametocytes are picked up by a female Anopheles mosquito when they ingest the blood of an infected host. While inside the mosquito the gametocytes develop into the sporozoite stage. When the infected mosquito feeds on a host the sporozoites travel from the saliva to the bloodstream of the new host. The sporozoites then travel to the liver where they develop into merozoites. Rapid divisions of sporozoites and merozoites begin to infect the blood stream, injecting themselves into red blood cells to continue divisions and protect themselves from white blood cells. Merozoites can go on to produce gametocytes within the host to begin the cycle again if another mosquito feeds on the infected host. This process can take anywhere between 24 hours and 72 hours after initial exposure.

Predicting Outbreaks:

The containment of malaria outbreaks is very difficult since it is near impossible to pinpoint where the initial exposure occurred. Preventative actions in countries with high risk of malaria involve spreading bed nets and other resources to as many places as possible. This has not been very effective since resources are spread thin. To predict where outbreaks will happen involves predicting where Anopheles mosquitoes will reproduce and feed. Anopheles mosquitoes thrive in areas with still waters, ponds and puddles, and warm air temperatures. These conditions are necessary for Anopheles to lay eggs. This is not a simple task for poorer countries such as northern Africa and South America. Researchers that have been working on malaria outbreak prevention have begun to implement satellite data from NASA to try and predict these conditions.  The researchers have started to use the Land Data Assimilation System (LDAS) to predict the conditions. LDAS is a land-surface modeling system effort supported by many organizations, including NASA, that takes in information from many NASA satellites to provide an ongoing analysis of worldwide precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, and vegetation. Using LDAS researchers can show areas where conditions that may produce outbreaks will likely form.

For more information on LDAS and the project:

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  1. This was a really well written post with rich hyperlinking! When researching this epidemic on my own I didn’t see that NASA was implementing satellite data to predict the conditions! That is really cool and hopefully something that will have a high benefit. Trying to brain storm, but what other preventative measures do you think big organizations such as the CDC can take to help eradicate this disease? Great post. If your interested check out my post on Malaria!

    1. I think that the most realistic thing they can do is provide more resources to help these situations before they become hazardous. Thank you for your comment, I will be looking forward to reading your post!

  2. I agree with Marisa that this is a great post, and that the use of satellite data to predict Malarial outbreaks is very interesting! Your point that the prediction data can only be useful for prevention if resources are available to the people who need them is an excellent one. What steps are being taken to provide targeted resources?

    1. As far as I know this is the beginning of the movement toward targeted resources. Before the resources were spread thin to cover as much area as possible. The problem is that people who are not at as much risk are getting the same amount of resources as those who are at an increased risk! Additionally, the outbreak would be allowed to spread to other areas if there were not enough resources to contain it.

  3. This was a really great post! As Marisa and Dr. C said in the previous comments, I think that the most interesting part is how NASA is using satellites to help predict where the outbreaks will be. You mentioned that plasmodium vivax was the most common parasite to infect humans, but how do the symptoms and the disease differ if a person was to be bit by one of the other species of the parasite?

    1. I am not too sure actually. I would assume, based on the article and the limited knowledge I have of the disease and mosquitoes, the outbreaks should occur at the highest rate around areas of high precipitation and high humidity. If you were to look at a map of infection rates they tend to increase as you near the equator. This is where you will find rain forests. Thank you for your comment!

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