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World Malaria Day 2024: Understanding The Consequences of Malaria During Pregnancy

World Malaria Day is recognised globally on April 25th to spread awareness about this mosquito-borne disease.

World Malaria Day 2024: Understanding The Consequences of Malaria During Pregnancy

Pregnant women are more likely to be susceptible to the illness due to their altered immune response

Malaria is a fatal disease caused by the parasites of the plasmodium genus, transmitted to humans through the infectious bites of female mosquito Anopheles. Malaria remains a substantial public health concern, specifically in tropical and sub-tropical regions, where conditions are favourable for mosquito breeding. When it comes to pregnant women, malaria poses unique challenges, risks, and threats. Pregnant women are more likely to be susceptible to the illness due to their altered immune response, and the consequences can be severe for both the mother and the unborn child.

There are five types of parasites, but the most common and deadly in pregnancy are Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax. These parasites can cross the placenta and impact the foetal development, leading to complications. Understanding the risks and implementing preventive measures is essential for protecting the pregnant women and their babies from dangers of malaria. Malaria can have critical risks to the pregnant ladies and their child. Some of the major risks associated with malaria are:

1. Anaemia: the malaria parasites infect red blood cells, leading to their destruction. Pregnant women with malaria are at a higher risk of developing anaemia, which can result in fatigue, weakness, and a higher chance of postpartum haemorrhage.

2. Low birth weight and preterm delivery: Infections during pregnancy can reduce foetal growth, resulting in low birth weight. Malaria is also associated with higher risk of preterm delivery, potentially causing complications in the baby's early development.

3. Miscarriage and Stillbirth: Malaria increases the risk of miscarriage, especially during the first trimester. In severe cases, it can also lead to stillbirth, where the baby is born without any signs of life.

4. Congenital Malaria: Parasites can cross the placenta and infect the baby, leading to congenital malaria. This condition cause fever, irritability, and poor feeding in newborns.

Signs and symptoms to watch out for:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Complications like cerebral malaria (affecting the brain) or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) can occur

Prevention against malaria:

Preventing malaria during pregnancy is crucial for the health of both the mother and the baby. Some of the preventive measures that pregnant ladies can take and consider are:

1. Use of Insecticide-Treated Nets (ITNs): Sleeping under ITNs is one of the most effective ways to prevent mosquito bites and reduce the risk of Malaria. Pregnant women should ensure their nets are in good condition and properly used.

2. Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS): This involves spraying insecticides on indoor walls to kill mosquitoes and reduce their population. IRS can significantly lower the risk of malaria transmission.

3. Prophylactic Medication: In regions with high malaria transmission, pregnant women are often given antimalarial medication as a preventive measure. The specific drug and dosage depends on the local resistance patterns and trimesters of pregnancy.

4. Avoidance of Mosquito-prone areas: Pregnant women should minimize exposure to areas with high mosquito activity, especially during peak biting times (dusk and dawn).

5. Early detection and treatment: Pregnant women should seek medical attention if they experience malaria like symptoms. Early detection and appropriate treatment are critical to prevent complications.

Malaria in pregnancy is a serious yet preventable concern. By adopting preventive measures and seeking early diagnosis, pregnant women can significantly reduce the risk of complications for themselves and their babies. Remember, knowledge and preventive measures are the best weapons in this fight. If you're planning a pregnancy or live in a malaria-prone area, talk to your doctor about creating a customized prevention plan.

(Dr. Ravi N Sangapur, MD (Internal Medicine), Consultant Physician, HCG Hospital, Hubli)

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