Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illnesses. Four kinds of malaria parasites infect humans. Types of symptoms can differ by age younger people, for example, are at higher risk of developing more serious problems such as respiratory distress, anemia, or cerebral malaria.
A team of researchers from the U.K., Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania has found that a higher incidence rate of malaria infections in a given group of people contributes to higher numbers of people with severe malarial symptoms. In the journal Science, the group describes their study of malaria infection patterns at multiple sites in East Africa over the course of 14 years.
Terrie Taylor and Laurence Slutsker with Michigan State University have published a Perspective piece in the same journal issue outlining the challenges involved with tracking malaria infections in Africa and the work done by the team in this new effort.
Analyzing their data, the researchers found that for every 25% increase (over a baseline of 17.6%) in the prevalence of infections, the annual rates of those people with severe infections raised 50%. They also found that as the prevalence of infections grew, the average age of patients admitted to hospitals in the area dropped.