A member of the Medical Brigade team from Cuba who went to West Africa to fight Ebola, died from complications of cerebral malaria, according to a Cuban News Agency report today.

Image/CDC
Image/CDC

60-year-old economist, Jorge Juan Guerra Rodriguez, died Monday from the serious parasitic disease, cerebral malaria from a Plasmodium falciparum infection. Rodriguez arrived in Guinea on Oct. 6 as part of a vanguard team of the medical brigade sent to battle Ebola.

The report states, as an economist with the medical brigade, Rodriguez never had any contacts with any Ebola treatment centers or with patients of that disease; however, he was submitted to two Ebola diagnostic tests whose results were negative.

Malaria is considered the most important parasitic disease affecting humans. The female Anopheles mosquito serves as the vector for the parasite.

The protozoan parasite belongs from the genus Plasmodium. There are many species of Plasmodium that infect vertebrates, but only 4 that are important to humans. The four species are:  Plasmodium falciparum,  Plasmodium vivax,  Plasmodium malariae and  Plasmodium ovale.

In addition, there has been some documented cases of people getting simian malaria (P. knowlesi).

The disease may manifest itself after an incubation of days to months. Once the parasites build up in the blood, symptoms are non-specific; fever, chills, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting. At this point the only way to confirm is finding the parasites in blood. These early stages resemble many other febrile diseases.

Paroxysms (due to rupture and release of the parasite and metabolic products into the system), happen every 48-72 hours depending on the species.

There is a cold stage which leads to teeth chattering, shaking chills followed by a hot stage (fever) where temperatures may reach 106°F. Convulsions may develop particularly in children.

Untreated P. falciparum (the life-threatening species) can lead to severe malaria. Severe malaria is characterized by cerebral malaria, severe anemia, renal filure (black water fever), respiratory distress and bleeding disorders and shock.

Prompt treatment for falciparum malaria is essential cause death from cerebral complications may occur.

Cerebral malaria is the most severe neurological complication of infection with Plasmodium falciparum malaria. It is a clinical syndrome characterized by coma ( This is thought to be causes by parasitized red blood cells (pRBCs) sequestered in cerebral micro-circulation) and asexual forms of the parasite on peripheral blood smears. Mortality is high and some surviving patients sustain brain injury which manifest as long-term neuro-cognitive impairments.

In adults, cerebral malaria is part of a multi-organ disease.