Malaria Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment



Malaria is a very serious disease that spreads when a person is bitten by infected mosquitoes. Patients usually feel extremely sick and experience high fever, shaking and chills. It is still very common in most tropical and subtropical countries. As per reports, as many as 290 million people are infected with malaria each year and above 400000 people die of it (Mayo Clinic (2023). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Available atIf left undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to severe health problems like brain damage, seizures, trouble breathing, organ failure and even death. 

Malaria Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of malaria are in most cases similar to flu symptoms. These common malaria symptoms may include the following:
  • High fever
  • Sweating and chills
  • Muscle aches and headache
  • Diarrhea 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue 
  • Chest pain, coughing and breathing problems
When malaria gets worse, it may cause jaundice and anemia (Tuteja, R., 2007. Malaria− an overview. The FEBS journal, 274(18), pp.4670-4679). The most severe form of malaria, commonly known as cerebral malaria may often progress to a coma. This kind of malaria represents around 15% of deaths among children and around 20% of deaths in adults.

Malaria Transmission Cycle 

Malaria spreads when mosquitoes become infected with the disease and thereafter the infected mosquitoes bite non-infected people. These malaria parasites enter the person’s bloodstream and travel to his liver. When the parasites mature, they gradually leave the liver and infect the red blood cells. The malaria life cycle thus typically includes the following:

Stage 1

The uninfected mosquito becomes infected by feeding on a person who has malaria. 

Stage 2

This stage comprises transmission of the parasite. If the infected mosquito bites a person, it can transmit malaria parasites to him (Meibalan, E. and Marti, M., 2017. Biology of malaria transmission. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 7(3), p.a025452).

Stage 3

Once the malaria parasites enter the person’s body, they travel to his liver. Some types of parasites can lie dormant for a long time. They may be dormant for as long as a year.

Stage 4

When these parasites mature, they leave the liver and start infecting the person’s red blood cells. This is usually when the person starts developing malaria symptoms.

Stage 5

 If uninfected mosquitoes bite the person at this point in the cycle, they become infected with the malaria parasites and thereafter can spread them to other individuals that they bite.

As the parasites causing malaria affect red blood cells, people may also have malaria due to exposure to infected blood. These may include the following:      
  • Through blood transfusions
  • From mother to unborn child
  • By sharing needles used to inject drugs 

Malaria Diagnosis

In order to diagnose malaria, doctors are most likely to review the patient’s medical history and recent travel history while conducting a physical examination and blood tests (Tangpukdee, N., Duangdee, C., Wilairatana, P. and Krudsood, S., 2009. Malaria diagnosis: a brief review. The Korean journal of parasitology, 47(2), p.93). These blood tests are helpful in indicating the following:

  • The presence of the parasite in the person’s blood which helps to confirm whether he has malaria
  • Which type of malaria parasite has caused the symptoms
  • Whether the disease is causing serious complications
  • Whether the infection is caused by a parasite that is resistant to certain drug
Depending on the patient’s symptoms, doctors may order additional diagnostic malaria test for assessing possible complications.

Malaria Treatment

Malaria is usually treated with prescription drugs to kill the parasite. Usually the drug type and span of malaria treatment varies depending on the type of parasite, the severity of symptoms, age and whether the patient is pregnant (Griffith, K.S., Lewis, L.S., Mali, S. and Parise, M.E., 2007. Treatment of malaria in the United States: a systematic review. Jama, 297(20), pp.2264-2277). Antiparasitic treatments are meant to kill parasites while antibiotics help to stop the growth of bacteria or kill the bacteria.

Prevention of Malaria

If you stay in or are planning to travel to an area where malaria is rampant, it is important for you to take several steps to avoid  mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are usually most active between dusk and dawn. Consider the following tips to protect yourself from mosquito bites:

1) Keep your skin covered

Wear long-sleeved shirts and full pants to prevent mosquito bites as much as possible (Greenwood, B., 2010. Anti-malarial drugs and the prevention of malaria in the population of malaria endemic areas. Malaria journal, 9(3), pp.1-7). It is also advisable to tuck in shirts and also tuck pant legs into socks.

2) Use insect repellents to skin

It is important to use insect repellent creams or lotions on your exposed skin. However, do not spray directly on your face. 

3) Apply repellents to clothing

Consider using sprays that contain permethrin to your clothing as they are effective and safe.

4) Sleep under a mosquito net

It is important to use mosquito nets while sleeping. This helps to prevent mosquito bites when you sleep.


  What are some of the most common initial symptoms of malaria?  

The common initial symptoms of malaria include fever, chills, sweat, muscle aches, headache, malaise, nausea and vomiting.

  How long does it usually take for a patient to heal from malaria?  

When diagnosed early and treated promptly, malaria can be cured in around 2 weeks.


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