Malaria can cause high fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms that can be life-threatening when not treated quickly. The disease is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are carried by Anopheles mosquitoes.
Only female mosquitoes spread the malaria parasites. When a mosquito bites a person who already has malaria, it sucks up the person’s blood, which contains the parasites. When the mosquito bites its next victim, it injects the parasites into that person. That’s how the disease is spread.
Once the parasites enter your body, they travel to your liver, where they multiply. They invade your red blood cells, which are important cells in your blood that carry oxygen. The parasites get inside them, lay their eggs, and multiply until the red blood cell bursts.
Types of Malaria
There are five species of Plasmodium parasites that affect humans. Two of them are considered the most dangerous:
- falciparum. This is the most common malaria parasite, and it causes the most malaria-related deaths in the world. P. falciparum multiplies very quickly, causing severe blood loss and clogged blood vessels.
- vivax. This is the malaria parasite most commonly found outside of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Asia and Latin America. This species can lie dormant, then rise up to infect your blood months or years after the mosquito bite.
Symptoms for malaria usually start about 10 to 15 days after the infected mosquito bite.
Because the signs are so similar to cold or flu symptoms, it might be hard to tell what you have at first. (Read about Chikungunya)
- Malaria symptoms don’t always show up within 2 weeks, especially if it’s a vivax infection.
- People who live in areas with lots of malaria cases may become partially immune after being exposed to it throughout their lives.
- Moderate to severe shaking chills
- High fever
- Throwing up or feeling like you’re going to
- A headache
- Being very tired (fatigue)
- Body aches
- Yellow skin (jaundice) from losing red blood cells
- Kidney failure
Children with severe malaria may get anemia, a condition that happens when you lose too many red blood cells. They may also have trouble breathing. In rare cases, they can get cerebral malaria, which causes brain damage from swelling.
- Cerebral malaria.If parasite-filled blood cells block small blood vessels to your brain (cerebral malaria), swelling of your brain or brain damage may occur. Cerebral malaria may cause coma.
- Breathing problems. Accumulated fluid in your lungs (pulmonary edema) can make it difficult to breathe.
- Organ failure. Malaria can cause your kidneys or liver to fail, or your spleen to rupture. Any of these conditions can be life-threatening.
- Malaria damages red blood cells, which can result in anemia.
- Low blood sugar. Severe forms of malaria itself can cause low blood sugar, as can quinine — one of the most common medications used to combat malaria. Very low blood sugar can result in coma or death.
- Malaria can cause you to go into a coma.
Malaria Diagnosis / Malaria Blood Test
Early diagnosis is critical for a patient’s recovery.
The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly advises confirmation of the parasite (Malarial Parasite or MP) through microscopic laboratory testing or by a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) or Rapid Malaria Test.
No combination of symptoms can reliably distinguish malaria from other causes, so a parasitological test is vital for identifying and managing the disease.