Malaria is one of the diseases reaping the most victims worldwide; over 400,000 people died from this parasite in 2015, the absolute majority in sub-Saharan Africa. But South America, including Brazil, is also at risk. Malaria is a life threatening disease, however it is preventable and curable.

What is Malaria

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by parasitic protozoans (a type of unicellular microorganism) of the Plasmodium type. Commonly, the disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. This bite introduces the parasite from its saliva into a person’s circulatory system.

Malaria is an acute febrile illness, which can be deadly if left untreated. Children under the age of five is particularly at risk of the infection.

There is no vaccine for malaria but several medications (i.e. Malaria prophylaxis) are available to prevent malaria in people traveling to risk areas.


Symptoms usually appear within 7-30 days but can take up to one year to develop. Symptoms include high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Sometimes the initial symptoms can be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria.  Patients with severe cases can develop seizures, mental confusion, kidney failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, coma and other multi-organ involvement. Children can, among other symptoms, develop anaemia and respiratory distress.

What is my risk?

Malaria occurs in tropical regions; Africa, Central and South America, parts of the Caribbean, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific. People spending time outdoors, including sleeping outside, are at higher risk of contracting malaria.

In general, Malaria is only a risk factor in the northeastern part of Brazil. There are virtually no cases in the Olympic cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Brasília, or the surrounding regions. It can however be a risk in Manaus, which is located in the state of Amazonas.

How can I avoid Malaria?

Several things can be done to prevent Malaria. In large part prevention depends on control of- and protection from the bites of the mosquito that transmits it. People can prevent mosquito bites by wearing clothing that fully covers the skin, using mosquito netting while resting, and/or the application of insect repellent (DEET being the most effective).

There is no vaccine for malaria but several medications (i.e. Malaria prophylaxis) are available to prevent malaria in people traveling to risk areas.

Malaria is treated with antimalarial medications. The ones used depend on the type and severity of the disease. Keep in mind that if it takes too long before treatment begins, malaria can still be fatal. Therefore, if you are travelling to a region with malaria, it is recommended to consider taking malaria prophylaxis.

Note that an overdose of antimalarial drugs, particularly chloroquine, can be deadly. All malaria medication should therefore be stored in containers out of the reach of children.

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