Malaria in children the word itself is enough to strike terror into the hearts of all parents. One of the most common discussions on mom support groups on Facebook and Whatsapp these days is how to prevent young children from being bitten by the malaria mosquito. Children, as it is, have a developing immunity and are worst affected. Malaria in children from 6 months to 5 years is especially a cause of concern. Therefore, recognising the signs and symptoms of malaria and seeking timely medical intervention, are of utmost importance. Malaria can be kept at bay by being careful and vigilant of the child’s environment.
What is malaria?
Malaria is an infection caused by the Plasmodium virus and is transmitted by mosquitoes. There are essentially 4 species of this virus which impact humans –
- Plasmodium vivax
- Plasmodium falciparum
- Plasmodium malariae
- Plasmodium ovale
Most of these are carried by the Anopheles mosquito. It is rare that human to human contact spreads malaria. However, it is very much possible that the mother passes it onto her child – known as congenital malaria, or through blood transfusion, sharing infected needles, and even organ transplant. I have to be honest and say I did not know this myself until I sat down to read up about malaria.
What are the symptoms of malaria in children?
Malaria fever symptoms in children are pretty much similar as for adults. The most common are recurrent attacks of:
- High-grade fever
- Heavy head/ headaches
- Nausea/ Vomiting
- Stomach pain
While it may be difficult to identify some of these in young babies, some signs to look out for are –
- Drowsiness or general malaise
- Loss of appetite
- Heavy breathing
- Chills followed by high spikes in fever (105*F) followed by the fever-reducing and resulting in intense sweating
- An enlarged spleen (better diagnosed by a doctor)
In extreme cases, malaria can also affect the brain and cause seizures and loss of consciousness.
A child that displays extreme episodes of impaired consciousness, acute respiratory distress, hypoglycaemia, and jaundice carries a risk for fatality too. So it is important that at the onset of any of the symptoms a Doctor’s advise must be sought.
While most malaria symptoms manifest within a few weeks of the biting episode, it is possible for some to show up months or even a year later. In cases where the virus is the P. Vivax and P. Ovale the infection can rest in the liver and only manifest months or even years later. One cannot be careful enough to avoid malaria in children. Repeated cases of malaria in children can lead to chronic anaemia, malnutrition and stunted growth.
Malaria symptoms and prevention often go hand-in-hand.
How is malaria in children diagnosed?
A Doctor will usually diagnose malaria in children based on physical conditions. He will also take a blood sample to be checked under a microscope for malarial parasites, which are seen as infected red blood cells. Diagnostic tests for malaria also include blood smears, rapid antigen detection tests, PCR, and antibody tests. Advanced antibody tests also are able to differentiate between P. falciparum and non-falciparum infections. This helps in giving the right treatment.
What is the treatment for malaria?
The treatment of malaria in children will primarily depend on the type of parasite, severity of symptoms, and most importantly age of the child. Treatment includes medication for management of fever, dehydration etc. Malarial medication is also given to children. This can be given orally, injections or intravenously.
Depending on the intensity of the infection the child who is suffering may be treated in the hospital also. Doctors may need to monitor conditions which may affect vital organs like brain, kidneys & spleen.
If diagnosed early and promptly treated, malaria in children can be cured in about two weeks. However, many people who live in areas where malaria is common get repeated infections. This impairs their immunity and health in the long run. Without treatment, the disease can be fatal, especially in children who are nutritionally compromised.
Can Malaria be prevented?
Yes, you can absolutely prevent Malaria in children by being extra diligent and careful. Here are some tips and ideas on doing this:
Eliminate probable breeding grounds for mosquitoes in and around your home.
Install window nets so that fresh air comes in, but no mosquitoes.
- Use sleeping nets for babies. If possible install a sleeping net for the entire bed if you are a co-sleeping family. Its better to be safe than sorry.
Cover the child fully when outdoors especially in the evenings. This means long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants. Mosquito repellents can even be sprayed or applied on clothing. Repellents containing permethrin are safe to be applied on the skin.
Use mosquito deterrents like Goodknight roll-on and patches when you are out of the home. It is also a good idea to use the roll-on indoors in the evenings when mosquitoes are most active.
I also used to apply a spot of the roll-on on babyT’s high chair. It used to be the mosquitoes’ favourite roosting spot for some odd reason. Similarly, these can also be applied to baby’s strollers, baby carrier or on your own body.
Switch on vapourisers like the Goodknight Activ+ in the evening, about an hour before you enter the bedroom for the night. Shut the doors and windows and keep the fan off when you do this.
Look up mosquito deterrent clothing. A new product in the market is mosquito repellent clothing and blankets. These are treated to be mosquito deterrent. I don’t have personal experience with using these, but in a high-risk area, I am sure these would be an added protection.
While malaria in children can be an extremely scary prospect, treatment, if identified in time, can lead to positive results. A good bite prevention strategy (yes, it is no less than a war plan) will also help you protect your loved ones.