Life Cycle of P. falciparum vs. P. vivax

Last updated on May 30th, 2021

I am writing this post to help you remember the fundamental differences between the two malarial parasites P. falciparum and P.vivax.

I hope after going through this post, you will discover some fascinating things and their arrangements in the word “FALCIPARUM“. This word will help you can recall or write the life cycle of both P. falciparum and P.vivax individually or even write the most important differences between their life cycle.

Note: To get the best of this blog post: you must have some idea about the general life cycle of the malarial parasite and its stages. Let’s begin with this magic word “FALCIPARUM”. For now, only focus on this word and the alphabets there

Key points regarding P falciparum malaria
  • F:
    • Fatal (Plasmodium falciparum cause most severe (dangerous) or life-threatening types of malaria called “malignant tertian malaria”).
    • Fast: To cause more damage to host cells it must complete each cycle (pre-erythrocytic schizogony and erythrocytic schizogony) faster; faster the life cycle, more will be the parasite… more will be the destruction of blood cells.
  • A/AL:
    • Applique’ or Accole’: These two forms are seen only in falciparum malarial infection. As the parasite attaches itself to the margin or the edge of the host cell, the nucleus and a small part of the cytoplasm remains almost outside giving the characteristics form, “form applique’ or accole’)
    • All: Plasmodium falciparum does not show a special affinity for any particular type of red blood cell but invades both the reticulocytes and erythrocytes (young and old). As both young and old red cells are infected the percentages of infected cells are more (which aids you in the microscopic diagnosis of malaria and differentiation too)
      (Vs. P. vivax: it is known that P. vivax shows a greater tendency to invade younger red blood cells and reticulocytes than mature RBC so the percentage of infected RBC is less, only 1-2% RBC are infected)  
Morphology of the different stages of the Plasmodium falciparum life cycle in thin blood films.
Morphology of the different stages of the Plasmodium falciparum life cycle in thin blood films.

C: “Crescents shaped”:

  • The gametocytes of plasmodium falciparum are sickle-shaped and are called “crescents”. This is one of the most useful diagnostic features utilized in the microscopic differentiation of malarial infections.

I: Internal organs:

  • Erythrocytic schizogony of P. falciparum occurs inside the capillaries of the internal organs, hence the only ring forms (not growing trophozoites and schizonts) are found in the peripheral blood.
    (vs. P vivax: The erythrocytic schizogony of P. vivax is completed mainly in the peripheral circulation)

RU: RBC Unaltered:

  • In Plasmodium falciparum infection the infected red blood cells remain unaltered (  P. vivax infection RBC enlarges and becomes double in its original size).

M: Multiple and Maurer’s Dot:

  • Multiple infections of the red blood cells are the feature of Plasmodium falciparum infection. i.e. more than one parasite (from 2 to 6) invading a single red blood cell (RBC) is very common with this species(vs. P. vivax: each RBC is generally invaded by a single parasite)
  • Maurer’s dot:  In the erythrocytic schizogony of Plasmodium falciparum the Schuffner’s dots are absent (S alphabet is absent in the above mentioned word), but in their place 6-12 Maurer’s dots of clefts (staining brick-red with Leishman’s stain) are seen. (Vs. vivax Schuffner’s dots present: The portion of cytoplasm unoccupied by the parasite shows a dotted or stippled appearance, called schuffner’s dots)

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About Acharya Tankeshwar 474 Articles
Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. I am working as an Asst. Professor and Microbiologist at Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. If you want me to write about any posts that you found confusing/difficult, please mention in the comments below.


      • Sabir
        while differentiating these two species on the basis of ring form, check the smear (infected RBCs) for the presence of double ring form or double nuclei or single ring form with single nuclei or accole/applique form etc. All details given in the blog post.

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