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Plasmodium spp.

Malaria is one of the most widespread and destructive infectious diseases of humans in the world. This potentially deadly disease is caused by tiny protozoan parasites (Plasmodium) that are spread to humans by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. These parasites require both a human and mosquito host to develop. There are four different species of Plasmodium that cause disease in humans, and many others that cause disease in animals.   

Malaria currently occurs in tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world, with several hundred million cases of malaria estimated to occur annually (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa). Although malaria has been largely eradicated in the United States, approximately 1500 cases are reported each year, mostly due to travel into areas where malaria still persists.

Impact on human health: 

Malaria disease cycle
  • According to the CDC, approximately half of the world’s population lives in areas at risk to malaria transmission.
  • Symptoms of malaria include: fever, muscle pain, fatigue, chills, sweating, and may progress to coma and death.
  • Some strains of the malaria parasite can become dormant in the liver, and symptoms may reappear up to 2-4 years later.
  • Malaria is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women.

What you can do to protect yourself: 

  • Consult a physician prior to traveling to determine if anti-malarial drugs are needed.  
  • Reduce exposure to mosquitoes by taking personal protective measures including: 
  1. Avoid being outdoors during peak mosquito activity (dawn and dusk).
  2. Properly use mosquito repellents containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus (always read the label carefully).
  3. Wear protective clothing.

Impact on animals/wildlife: 

  • Many Plasmodium species infect a wide range of animals including reptiles, birds, rodents and non-human primates.

Useful links: 

CDC Malaria Page

  • Information for travelers
  • Information about anti-malarial programs

CDPH: Malaria Page

  • Malaria fact sheets
  • Yearly reports on malaria in California

WHO (World Health Organization): Malaria Page

  • World malaria reports
  • World Malaria Day
  • Publications, statistics, and technical related to malaria


Mullen, G.R. and L.A. Durden. 2009. Medical and Veterinary Entomology, 2nd ed. Academic Press. Burlington, MA.