George Clooney treated for malaria- twice!

Oscar winning actor, and humanitarian George Clooney knows first hand some of the hardships experienced by those in Sudan. Earlier this month, Clooney was in Africa on a campaign to push for more aggressive diplomacy to avoid genocide in Sudan. While there, he contracted malaria, one of the most prevalent diseases in Africa. According to the CDC,  in 2008, an estimated 190 – 311 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 708,000 – 1,003,000 people died, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Clooney’s rep told PEOPLE magazine: “George is completely over the Malaria he contracted while in the Sudan during the first week in January. This was his second bout with it. This illustrates how with proper medication, the most lethal condition in Africa, can be reduced to a bad ten days instead of a death sentence.”

What is Malaria?

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a single celled parasite, called plasmodium, that’s transmitted by mosquitoes. Although there are many varieties of plasmodium, only four cause disease in humans: P. falciprium, P. vivax, P. malariae, and P. ovale. Malaria has pretty much been eliminated in the United States and other temperate climates but remains a major health threat in tropical and subtropical countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South and Central America. P. falciprium is the most predominant strain in Africa, produces the most severe symptoms and is responsible for most malaria deaths.

How is Malaria Spread?

The malaria parasite life cycle involves two hosts- female Anopheles mosquitoes, and humans. During a blood meal, a malaria-infected mosquito inoculates an immature form of plasmodium, called sporozoites, into the human host. The sporozoites infect liver cells, mature and rupture the liver cells, releasing daughter cells called merozoites into the bloodstream where they are taken up into red blood cells. (Of note, in P. vivax and P. ovale a dormant stage can persist in the liver and cause relapses by invading the bloodstream weeks, or even years later.) The parasites multiply in the red blood cells. It is in this blood stage that the clinical manifestations of the disease are seen. If another female Anopheles mosquito bites the infected person, it receives the parasite, which begins to multiply and eventually winds up in the salivary glands of the mosquito, ready to be injected into a new human host.

What are the symptoms of Malaria?

The classical (but rarely observed) malaria attack lasts 6-10 hours. It consists of

  • a cold stage (sensation of cold, shivering)
  • a hot stage (fever, headaches, vomiting; seizures in young children)
  • and finally a sweating stage (sweats, return to normal temperature, tiredness).

The attacks occur every second day with the “tertian” parasites (P. falciparum, P. vivax, and P. ovale) and every third day with the “quartan” parasite (P. malariae).

More commonly, the patient presents with a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Body aches
  • General malaise

In countries where cases of malaria are infrequent, these symptoms may be attributed to influenza, a cold, or other common infections, especially if malaria is not suspected.

What is the Treatment for Malaria?

In most cases, healthcare providers can successfully treat people with malaria. To decide which medicine to use, they should try to identify the species of parasite responsible and the geographical location where the person was infected. Travelers to areas where malaria is endemic should take prophylactic medication during their period abroad. The CDC has extensive information on malaria advisories around the globe.

For more information, check out our casebook at

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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