Malaria was rife among Far East Prisoners of War and caused many fatalities.
Malaria is a serious, infectious disease spread by certain mosquitoes. It is most common in tropical climates. It is characterised by recurrent symptoms of chills, fever and an enlarged spleen. The disease can be treated or prevented with medication but this was rarely available at the time. It often recurs. Many people were left with chronic anaemia due to malaria infection.
Malaria is contracted when a person is bitten by a female mosquito, looking for a blood meal, and is infected with the malaria parasite. The parasites enter the blood stream and travel to the liver, where they multiply. When they re-emerge into the blood, symptoms appear. By the time a patient shows symptoms, the parasites have reproduced very rapidly, clogging blood vessels and rupturing blood cells.
Malaria cannot be casually transmitted directly from one person to another. Instead, a mosquito bites an infected person and then passes the infection on to the next human it bites.
The primary symptom of all types of malaria is the 'malaria ague' (chills and fever). In most cases the fever has three stages beginning with uncontrollable shivering for an hour or two followed by a rapid rise in temperature (as high as 106° F) which lasts three to six hours. Then, just as suddenly, the patient begins to sweat profusely which will quickly bring down the fever. Other symptoms may include fatigue, severe headache or nausea and vomiting. As the sweating subsides, the patient typically feels exhausted and falls asleep. In many cases this cycle of chills, fever and sweating occurs every other day or every third day and may last for between a week and a month. Those with the chronic form of malaria may have a relapse as long as 50 years after the initial infection.
Falciparum malaria is far more severe than other types of malaria because the parasite attacks all red blood cells, not just the young or old cells, as do other types. It causes the red blood cells to become very 'sticky'. A patient with this type of malaria can die within hours of the first symptoms. The fever is prolonged. So many red blood cells are destroyed that they block the blood vessels in vital organs (especially the kidneys) and the spleen becomes enlarged. There may be brain damage leading to coma and convulsions. The kidneys and liver may fail.