CDC: Malaria Disease Basics


What you need to know

  • Malaria is a serious disease caused by a parasite that infects a certain type of mosquito.
  • Most people get malaria from the bite of an infective mosquito.
  • Malaria can be a deadly disease if not diagnosed and treated quickly. Starting treatment as soon as possible can often prevent severe illness and death.

An adult female Anopheles quadrimaculatus, seen here taking a blood meal, is capable of spreading the malaria parasite to humans.


The risk of malaria in the United States is very low. People do not spread malaria to other people, like the common cold or the flu. Also, malaria is not sexually transmitted. The U.S. reports about 2,000 cases of malaria each year. Most of these cases are in people traveling to areas where malaria spreads.


Malaria symptoms range from very mild illness to severe disease and even death. Early Symptoms can include:

  • Fever and flu-like illness
  • Chills
  • Headache, muscle aches, and tiredness
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur

If not treated quickly, the infection can become severe.

Severe symptoms can include

  • kidney failure
  • seizures
  • mental confusion
  • coma

Causes and Risk

Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite. Anopheles mosquitoes are the type of mosquito that transmit malaria from one person to another. Not all Anopheles mosquitoes have malaria, but if they bite a person with malaria, they can become infectious. Once they bite another person, this continues the cycle of spreading malaria from mosquito to people.

The risk for malaria in the U.S. is very low. Most cases of malaria in the U.S. are imported cases. This means people contract malaria while traveling to another country where malaria spreads.

Testing & Diagnosis

See a healthcare provider as soon as possible if

  • you are experiencing any of the symptoms of malaria, and
  • you have traveled in the last year to or from an area where malaria occurs

Only a healthcare provider can diagnose malaria. A lab test will confirm malaria using a small sample of your blood.


Prescription drugs can treat and cure malaria. The type of drug and length of treatment depends on

  • the type of malaria,
  • where (geographic location) the person was infected,
  • and how sick they are when treatment starts.

Other important factors are age and whether the patient is pregnant.


  • Avoid areas with high mosquito activity, especially during late evening and at night. This is when Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria bite.
  • Use a bug spray approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 
  • Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Keep windows and doors closed or covered with screens to keep mosquitoes out of your house.
  • Repair broken screens on windows, doors, porches, and patios.
  • Empty standing water at least once a week to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs.

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/index.html