Members of the genus Plasmodium must infect a mosquito and a vertebrate to complete their life cycle. In vertebrates, the parasite develops in liver cells and goes on to infect red blood cells, bursting from and destroying the blood cells with each asexual replication cycle (Figure 13.16). Of the four Plasmodium species known to infect humans, P. falciparum accounts for 50 percent of all malaria cases and is the primary cause of disease-related fatalities in tropical regions of the world. In 2010, it was estimated that malaria caused between 0.5 and 1 million deaths, mostly in African children. During the course of malaria, P. falciparum can infect and destroy more than one-half of a human’s circulating blood cells, leading to severe anemia. In response to waste products released as the parasites burst from infected blood cells, the host immune system mounts a massive inflammatory response with delirium-inducing fever episodes, as parasites destroy red blood cells, spilling parasite waste into the blood stream. P. falciparumis transmitted to humans by the African malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. Techniques to kill, sterilize, or avoid exposure to this highly aggressive mosquito species are crucial to malaria control.
This movie (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/malaria2) depicts the pathogenesis of Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria.