Malaria Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Rachel Torrens
Malaria has been around for centuries, quickly killing large groups of people, and it is still causing deaths today. In this lesson, learn more about this deadly disease, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What is Malaria?

Malaria is a life-threatening illness caused by a parasite carried by a certain kind of mosquito. But what's a parasite? Well, a parasite is any living organism that depends on a host to live. This particular parasite is so tiny it lives inside the host's blood. And there are two hosts that are perfect for malaria's reproduction: the mosquito and the human. The mosquito houses the parasite without any problems. For humans, it is a different story.

The malaria parasite (the aqua circle in the middle) is attacking and destroying a human red blood cell (the red area on the left).
Malaria parasite attacking a red blood cell.

A human infected with the malaria parasite will develop fever, chills and a headache. Some people will also have vomiting and diarrhea. If the person does not receive medicine in time, the person may die from organ failure, brain swelling or breathing problems. Luckily, there are medicines that can cure malaria! However, the illness must be recognized as malaria and the medicines must be given quickly in order for them to help the infected person.

Who Bit Me?

Let's explore how malaria is spread from person to person. As we have learned, the malaria parasites live inside a human's blood. So, if a mosquito bites an infected person and sucks up some of the infected blood, then the mosquito becomes a carrier of malaria. If this infected mosquito now bites a new person, then that person will become infected with malaria. So it is through mosquitos that malaria can be passed between people. An animal that carries diseases and spreads them from one person to another is known as a vector.

Where in the World is Malaria?

Now, the next time you are playing outside, don't panic about a mosquito bite. There are over 400 types of mosquitos! The Anopheles mosquito is the mosquito that carries the malaria parasite, and it tends to live in tropical climates. By far, Central Africa has the most cases per year, but some cases are also reported in South America, Asia, and the Middle East.

Malaria occurs mostly in tropical areas, especially Africa.
Map of malaria

How Can We Stop Malaria?

Sadly, over 500,000 people die every year from malaria. Most of those who die are children under the age of five. As mentioned earlier, there are medicines that treat malaria, but getting the medicine to the infected person in time can be challenging. For this reason, scientists are focusing on preventing malaria in the first place.

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