Malaria is an infection that can be caused by a few different types of Plasmodium species, which are single-celled parasites that get spread around by mosquitoes.
Once the plasmodium gets into the bloodstream, it starts to infect and destroy mainly liver cells and red blood cells, which causes a variety of symptoms and sometimes even death.
Malaria is a serious global health problem that affects millions of people, particularly young children under the age of 5, pregnant women, patients with other health conditions like HIV and AIDS, and travelers who have had no prior exposure to malaria.
Tropical and subtropical regions are hit the hardest, together the most affected regions form the malaria belt, which is a broad band around the equator that includes much of latin america, sub-saharan africa, south asia, and southeast asia.
There are hundreds of types of Plasmodium species, but only five cause malarial disease in humans, and those are Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium ovale, and Plasmodium knowlesi.
Plasmodium vivax uses a specific erythrocyte surface receptor called the Duffy antigen.
And some individuals, particularly those with sickle-cell anemia lack this receptor, meaning that Plasmodium vivax cannot get into their cells.
In other words, having sickle cell anemia is genetically related to having relative protection from Plasmodium vivax.
Other diseases, like thalassemia and G6PD deficiency make the parasite-infected erythrocyte more susceptible to dying from oxidative stress.