Malaria not spread by casual contact
January 20th, 2011
04:24 PM ET

Malaria not spread by casual contact

Mosquitos, those pesky insects that feed on human blood, are more than just a summertime nuisance. They are also the source of a very serious public health problem–malaria.  Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by a parasite that infects the mosquito. The infected mosquito transmits the parasite to humans through a bite.

George Clooney contracted malaria on a recent visit to Sudan, the actor told CNN's Piers Morgan on Thursday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when a mosquito bites an infected person, the bug takes in a small amount of blood that contains microscopic malaria parasites. When it bites the next person, the parasites mix with the mosquito's saliva, which is  injected into that person.

You can't get malaria from casual contact with someone who's infected. It's not contagious and can't be transmitted sexually. Malaria is preventable and curable, but it can be deadly.

Symptoms usually appear about 10 to 15 days after infection and include very high fever and flu-like illness such has shaking chills, headache, muscle ache and fatigue. You could also have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. According to the World Health Organization, if not treated quickly–within 24 hours, patients can experience severe illness "often leading to death." Early diagnosis is key.

The disease is very common worldwide, but is found most often in tropical and subtropical countries. Here in the United States, about 1,500 cases of malaria are reported each year. The vast majority of these cases are in travelers and immigrants returning from countries where malaria is endemic like sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America and South Asia.  Malaria kills about 1 million people a  year worldwide, 89% of those are in Africa.

If you are going to an area where malaria is present, antimalarial medication should be taken early. The disease can be cured with with prescription drugs.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.