Monday January 25 2016

Does breastfeeding transmit malaria?

By Dr Vincent Karuhanga

Dear Doctor:Whenever I get malaria, my baby also gets it. Is it true that breastfeeding can transmit malaria?


Dear Mwajjuma: Although malaria transmission usually occurs through the bite of malaria parasite-infected female anopheles mosquito, in a few cases, it can also happen through blood transfusion or to the foetus from a mother through the placenta. The last two are now rare due to rigorous screening of blood for transfusion, and proper prevention and treatment of malaria in pregnant women.

It is not true that when a mother has malaria, she can transmit it (malaria) to her baby through breast milk. Many mothers who share bedrooms with their babies and do not use insecticide-treated mosquito nets may both get bitten by malaria parasite-laden mosquitoes looking for a blood meal before laying eggs.
Apart from being common, malaria may coincidentally affect people sleeping in the same bedroom. If a mosquito bites a mother and is chased off before having its fill, when it then bites the baby, it will not transmit malaria from the blood sucked from the mother. The sucked blood goes to the mosquitoes stomach where the parasites (if they exist) will undergo developmental changes and after a few days, will migrate to the salivary glands where they will be vomited into the next bitten victim to cause malaria.

It is true that many Ugandans take any fever to mean malaria, thus many end up wrongly taking drugs for malaria. This is one of the reasons why malaria is becoming resistant to the commonly used drugs.
Highly infectious fever-causing conditions that are usually confused with malaria and can affect mother and child almost at the same time include a viral common cold. Insecticide-treated bed nets could largely prevent your problem if at all it is malaria but not other conditions that mimic malaria.