Malaria can be fatal, particularly the variety that's common in tropical parts of Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa — most commonly in children under the age of 5.

In most cases, malaria deaths are related to one or more of these serious complications:

  • Cerebral malaria. If parasite-filled blood cells block small blood vessels to your brain (cerebral malaria), swelling of your brain or brain damage may occur. Cerebral malaria may cause coma.
  • Breathing problems. Accumulated fluid in your lungs (pulmonary edema) can make it difficult to breathe.
  • Organ failure. Malaria can cause your kidneys or liver to fail, or your spleen to rupture. Any of these conditions can be life-threatening.
  • Severe anemia. Malaria damages red blood cells, which can result in severe anemia.
  • Low blood sugar. Severe forms of malaria itself can cause low blood sugar, as can quinine — one of the most common medications used to combat malaria. Very low blood sugar can result in coma or death.

Malaria may recur

Some varieties of the malaria parasite, which typically cause milder forms of the disease, can persist for years and cause relapses.

Jan. 25, 2013

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