Malaria is a parasitic disease of humans and animals caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium, which are transmitted by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. The parasites multiply in the liver and then infect the red blood cells causing recurrent attacks of chills and fever.

There are five kinds of malaria parasites that infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum (the most deadly), Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium malariae, and Plasmodium knowlesi (primate malaria parasite that can also infect humans). The majority of malaria deaths worldwide are due to P. falciparum. P. vivax and P. ovale, although rarely fatal, can develop dormant liver stages that can reactivate after symptom-free intervals of up to 2 to 4 years, respectively. Malaria is found in tropical and some temperate areas worldwide.

Because the parasites that cause malaria affect red blood cells, malaria can also be transmitted by exposure to infected blood from mother to unborn child and through blood transfusions, organ transplants, and needle sharing for intravenous drugs.

Further information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Malaria Frequently Asked Questions Web page and the World Health Organization (WHO) Malaria Fact Sheet.


Information on the frequency and distribution of malaria throughout the world can be found in the following resources:

Military Perspective

Malaria is a significant health concern for members of the military. Due to the potential severity of the disease, personnel deploying to areas of the world where malaria occurs should be informed of the risk of infection and the need to take precautions to reduce the risk of exposure. In addition, they should receive appropriate chemoprophylactic medication and personal protective equipment.

During the redeployment process, personnel should be provided information on how to access health care if they become ill after they return home. Although most diseases contracted during deployment cause symptoms while troops are still in the theater of operations, malaria may not cause symptoms until after troops return home. Therefore, service members seeking medical care should always inform providers if they have deployed and the location.

The following articles describe the effect of malaria on the U.S. military:

  • Gulf War and Health: Volume 5. Infectious Diseases (2007)
    • Report produced by the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science) which details infectious diseases, including malaria, in U.S. troops who served in the Gulf War and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
    • Based on this report, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established a presumption of service connection for nine infectious diseases, including malaria, related to military service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations and Afghanistan that appeared either during a qualifying period of active service or prior to December 31, 2016. Information can be found on the VA Compensation Gulf War Web page.  

Military Guidance for Malaria Risk Assessment, Prevention and Treatment