Plasmodium – A Genus
Plasmodium is a genus of protozoans which fall under the subclass Coccidia. Plasmodium usually infects the red blood cells in humans and other mammals. This genus is also known to affect birds, causing Avian Malaria. In humans, plasmodium causes malaria, however, it requires a vector. The female anopheles mosquito fulfills the purpose of a vector, transmitting the organism to the host through its bite.
In humans, five species of plasmodium are known to cause malaria. They are as follows:
- Plasmodium vivax
- Plasmodium ovale
- Plasmodium falciparum
- Plasmodium malariae
- Plasmodium knowlesi
The most common species to cause malaria is P. vivax. However, P. falciparum is known to cause the most severe of symptoms.
Plasmodium Life Cycle
Members of this genus exhibit three distinct stages in its lifecycle:
Further Reading: Plasmodium Life Cycle: Introduction, Life Cycle, FAQs
How Plasmodium Affects the Body
As stated previously, plasmodium needs a vector to infect its hosts (humans). The Anopheles female mosquito is the vector, with the protozoan entering the host through the proboscis of the mosquito. Once inside the host, the parasite seeks out red blood cells to invade and multiply.
This changes the characteristic of the RBCs, rendering it stiff and inelastic. What this means is, the infected RBCs cannot fit through capillaries – the smallest blood vessel. As a result, circulation can clog up in major organs, such as the brain and kidneys. If left untreated, the condition can lead to organ failure and eventually death. In malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum, the damage is even more extensive, with the blood cells becoming extremely fragile with a shorter lifespan.
Further Reading: Malaria – Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention