‘Malaria during pregnancy increases neurological risks for babies’

New Delhi, April 25 (IANS) Malaria during pregnancy poses significant risks to the brain development of babies, experts said on World Malaria Day on Thursday.

World Malaria Day is observed every year on April 25, to spread awareness about the mosquito-borne life-threatening disease spread to humans by female Anopheles mosquitoes and caused by parasites of the Plasmodium genus: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae, and P. knowlesi. Of these P. falciparum is the most deadly parasite responsible for the majority of malaria-related deaths.

This year’s theme is “Accelerating the fight against malaria for a more equitable world”.

“Severe malaria infections, particularly with Plasmodium falciparum, during the first half of pregnancy, can lead to microcephaly and reduced uteroplacental blood flow, depriving the foetus of oxygen and nutrients. This can result in preterm birth, low birth weight, and even foetal death,” Dr Sanjay Majumdar, Consultant Paediatrician, Bhailal Amin General Hospital, Vadodara, told IANS.

While mild infections are less likely to cause immediate neonatal danger, they still carry the potential for long-term neurological consequences.

“Neurological hazards for newborns include intrauterine growth retardation, hypoxic brain injury, seizures, lower IQ, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, and learning disabilities. These issues stem from the maternal inflammatory immune response affecting foetal brain development,” Dr Majumdar said.

To mitigate the risks, regular antenatal clinic visits are crucial for early detection and treatment.

Testing for malaria should be conducted promptly if the mother exhibits symptoms like fever or weakness.

“It’s essential to monitor these children’s development and academic achievements closely to address any potential deficits early on. By emphasising early detection, treatment, and ongoing support, we can mitigate the long-term neurological effects of malaria during pregnancy and promote healthier outcomes for both mothers and babies,” the doctor said.

The World Health Organisation estimates that India has 15 million cases of malaria with 19,500-20,000 deaths annually.

Although malaria is deadly, it is preventable and curable, Dr Abhishek Gupta, Consultant – Pediatric And Pediatric Intensivist, Manipal Hospital Gurugram, told IANS.

“The infection is caused by a parasite and does not spread from person to person,” he noted.

Symptoms range from fever, ⁠chills, ⁠and headache to fatigue, confusion, seizures, and difficulty in breathing. However, early detection and treatments can stop mild cases from getting worse. “Malaria can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites and by taking medicines. Talk to a doctor about taking medicines such as chemoprophylaxis before travelling to areas where malaria is common,” Dr Gupta said.

He also suggested using mosquito nets when sleeping in places where malaria is present; using mosquito repellents (containing DEET, IR3535, or Icaridin) after dusk; and wearing protective clothing.



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