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Malaria is a serious and sometimes life-threatening parasitic infection spread by the bite of a certain mosquito (i.e. the female Anopheles mosquito).

Page last updated 18 January 2024

Mainland Australia is free from malaria, but it is sometimes present in the Torres Strait Islands. Malaria occurs most commonly across the equatorial regions of the globe, and therefore, travellers to these regions should consider medication for malaria prevention before they leave, during travel and after they return.

Malaria can be a severe infection, and may be fatal without effective and timely treatment.

Commonly asked questions

What is malaria?

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito (i.e. the female Anopheles mosquito), which feeds on humans.

There are five types of parasites that cause malaria in humans: Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium knowlesi and Plasmodium falciparum. Initially, the parasites roam in the bloodstream for a short time before moving on to infect the liver and multiply. After about 6–16 days (depending on which parasite it is), the parasite returns to the bloodstream to infect and multiply inside the red blood cells.

How is malaria spread?

Malaria is spread by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. The mosquito may have picked up the parasite from another person, but in general, people cannot spread the parasite directly to one another.

However, malaria can be spread by blood transfusion, organ transplantation, sharing of needles, or from mother to baby before and/or during birth.

Is malaria contagious?

No. Malaria cannot be spread casually from person to person. Malaria can only be transferred by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito.

However, because malaria lives in the red blood cells, it can be spread via blood transfusion, organ transplantation, or from a mother to baby.

What are the symptoms of malaria?

Malaria may present with cycles of fever, sweating, chills, and shivering, along with headache, diarrhoea, and anaemia.

Severe malaria, particularly of which is caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, may include symptoms of brain involvement (cerebral malaria) including abnormal behaviour, seizures, and coma. Acute respiratory distress, kidney failure, and death may also occur in cases of severe malaria. 

How long does it take to show symptoms of malaria?

In most cases, symptoms will appear 8 days to 30 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Occasionally symptoms develop weeks or months later. Some types of malaria can re-occur months or years after exposure.

Sources & Citations

  1. NSW Government, Department of Health, Malaria fact sheet. Available at: (accessed 10 November 2021). 
  2. Victorian State Government, Better Health Channel, Malaria. Available at (accessed 10 November 2021).
  3. World Health Organisation, Malaria Fact Sheet. Available at: (accessed 10 November 2021).
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Malaria Disease. Available at (accessed 10 November 2021).

MAT-AU-2102441  Date of preparation  December 2021