The gametocyte form of malaria shown in the photograph above represents Plasmodium falciparum.
Plasmodium falciparum is a protozoan parasite that causes an infectious disease known as malaria. P. falciparum is the most severe strain of the malaria species correlated with almost every malarial death. The other 3 species that cause malaria include: P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae. Humans become infected by a female Anopheles mosquito which, transfers a parasitic vector through its saliva into the blood stream. The parasite then infects the liver and undergoes asexual reproduction followed by insertion into red blood cells where an additional round of replication takes place. P. falciparum changes the surface of an infected red blood cell causing it to adhere to blood vessels, cytoadherence, as well as to other red blood cells. In severe cases this leads to obstructions of microcirculation resulting in dysfunction of many organs. Symptoms depend on severity of infection and can present a range of signs such as flulike symptoms, vomiting diarrhea, shock, kidney failure, coma, and death. Plasmodium falciparum mostly infects children under the age of 5 as well as pregnant women.