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Malaria: Common Writing Errors

May 12, 2020 - 00:27 -- Miles Markus

The quality of literature on malaria occasionally leaves something to be desired, with lack of attention to detail in one way or another being evident. Note the following selected matters:

Plasmodium falciparum (for example) is not "a malaria" or "a species of malaria". It is wrong to write like this. The reason is that "malaria" is the name for a disease, not an organism. This mistake is ubiquitous in its occurrence but frequent incorrect usage does not make the usage right. Precedents mean nothing in this instance (see the first reference below – website link provided). One must talk about, instead, "a species of malaria parasite"; or "a species of Plasmodium".

We do not "treat Plasmodium falciparum". In a therapeutic sense, it is the disease that is treated, never the parasite. Thus, we "treat Plasmodium falciparum malaria"; or "treat Plasmodium falciparum infection". However, we also treat patients (who have malaria). "Treat", as used in the non-therapeutic contexts of bednets and laboratory cultures, is not comparable (having a different connotation).

We do not "treat" hypnozoites. This is because they are not sick. They are perfectly healthy. We certainly deal with them, though (considering that we don't like them), but not by "treating" them.

For technical reasons, there is no such word as "Plasmodia" to denote the plural. This is despite the fact that "Plasmodia" appears in papers on malaria, and has done so, erroneously, since the previous millennium. The adjective "plasmodial", on the other hand, does exist.

It is unwise to specify the NUMBER of species of Plasmodium that cause human malaria, as often happens in the introductory paragraphs of journal articles on malaria. It isn't really necessary, anyway. Instead of e.g. "five species", write something like "several species". The number keeps changing because this is an area where research is ongoing.

Except at the beginning of a sentence, do not write "anopheline mosquitoes" with an upper case "A". Moreover, "anopheline" should definitely not be italicized. "Anopheline" is an ordinary English word (both a noun and an adjective), albeit derived from a Latinized genus name.

As further reading concerning all of the abovementioned points, and others, see:


Submitted by Miles Markus on

As regards the number of plasmodial species that cause human infections:

Not the end of the world – it is just that simply giving a bald figure and leaving things like that is becoming inadequate or misleading information, as shown by ongoing research. This point concerning the number of species is commented upon in one of the three references listed (by means of links) at the end of the blog. Needless to say, it is a different matter if authors provide a short explanation as to the situation, mentioning zoonoses.

Submitted by Miles Markus on

Following on from the blog:

We do not "cure Plasmodium falciparum", just as we do not "treat Plasmodium falciparum" (the latter was pointed out in the blog). It is malaria that we "cure", or the patient; not the parasites.

We obviously don't "cure" hypnozoites or other plasmodial stages either. Hypnozoites, etc., do not suffer from any diseases, so there is nothing to "cure".

Submitted by Miles Markus on

There is a comment in the first reference at the end of the above Blog regarding the use of "malarias" (in the plural).

Submitted by Miles Markus on

Don't talk about hypnozoites relapsing. What they do is activate. They are the origin (but not the cause) of relapse. Subsequent and ongoing asexual multiplication of extra-hepatic merozoites is what leads to (is indirectly the cause of) relapse. The word "relapse" refers to what happens in relation to the disease. I.e. it is a malarial relapse that occurs, not relapse of a hypnozoite(s).

Submitted by Miles Markus on

Someone who has malaria has a plasmodial infection. When it is Plasmodium vivax malaria resulting from a single mosquito bite, and a hypnozoite-mediated parasitaemic or clinically apparent recurrence takes place, authors sometimes refer to this type of recurrence as a "relapse infection". However, a so-called "relapse infection" is not a different infection from the primary infection. It is still the same infection (which has relapsed). So technically, "relapse infection" does not make sense. There is no such thing. Write, instead, just "relapse" (not "relapse infection"); or "relapsed infection"; or "relapsing infection". What wording is appropriate will depend on the structure of the sentence, obviously.

I have pointed this out before (elsewhere):

Submitted by Anonymized User (not verified) on

Some of these helpful points (of which various authors of papers on malaria are still blissfully unaware, judging from their recent writing) have been noticed and endorsed by:

Onisillos Sekkides, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet Microbe; and previously Deputy Editor of The Lancet Infectious Diseases


Patricia Schlagenhauf, Editor-in-Chief of Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease