Malaria is probably the most important parasitic disease affecting man. The parasite belongs to the class Sporozoa and the genus Plasmodium, a name which means multinucleated mass.

Malaria life cycle/CDC
Malaria life cycle/CDC

There are scores of named species of Plasmodium which infect various species of vertebrates. Four species are considered true parasites of humans, as they utilize humans almost exclusively as a natural intermediate host: P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale and P. malariae.

In addition, P. knowlesi, a type of malaria that naturally infects macaques in Southeast Asia, also infects humans, causing malaria that is transmitted from animal to human (“zoonotic” malaria).

A few general facts about the malarial parasites are:

  • All plasmodia are pigment producers
  • All plasmodia are ameboid, some more than others
  • All plasmodia have an asexual cycle in the vertebrate host, while all plasmodia have a sexual cycle in the invertebrate host (mosquito)

On today’s podcast, I talk to author Rosemary Drisdelle about some of the basics of malaria and jump into the most common species, Plasmodium vivax.