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Malaria Symptoms and Precautions: What You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by Kristina Campos, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Den Alibudbud · Updated Aug 30, 2022

Malaria Symptoms and Precautions: What You Need to Know

We often hear people mention the dangers of malaria, but how much do you know about it? To help you stay informed, here is a quick look at malaria symptoms and precautions.

What is Malaria?

Malaria is a kind of disease that a parasite causes. When an infected mosquito bites a person, the parasite gets transmitted. It is estimated that around 210 million people get infected and 440,000 die from malaria every year. However, malaria is only present in certain parts of the world. Malaria is most prevalent in Africa, having about 93% of the world’s malaria cases along with 94% of the deaths.

Are Malaria and Dengue the Same? 

Dengue and malaria are both caused by mosquitos, but they are not the same. A female Anopheles mosquito’s bite transmits Plasmodium to a person, which causes malaria. 

The vector, or transmitting mosquito, for dengue fever is the Aedes aegypti(ital). 

The symptoms of dengue and malaria are similar. However, there are a few differences. For instance, dengue can cause rashes whereas malaria would not. In areas where both malaria and dengue are endemic, someone can have both dengue and malaria at the same time.

Malaria Symptoms and Precautions

It can take around 7-30 days after a mosquito bite for symptoms of malaria to appear. Depending on the parasite species, symptoms can start as early as 7 days, while certain malaria types can be dormant for months to years after the initial transmission.

The following are symptoms that malaria can cause:

  • Fever
  • Chills 
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue 
  • Joint pains
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Abdominal or chest pain
  • Sweating

Some patients who have malaria could experience malaria attacks. Typically, the attack begins with chills and shivering, then a high fever, along with sweating. Then a person may go back to their normal temperature. 

Additionally, malaria can recur. Some types of malaria can cause a milder case of malaria, which can cause relapses and persist for years. 

What Causes Malaria?

Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium spp; the clinically important species are:

  • Plasmodium knowlesi (P. knowlesi)
  • Plasmodium ovale (P. ovale)
  • Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax)
  • Plasmodium malariae (P. malariae)
  • Plasmodium falciparum (P. falciparum)

Mosquitoes transmit the parasite from one person to another through a blood meal. If you are infected with malaria, the parasite goes into your body and goes into your liver. where it matures. It then leaves and enters the bloodstream to infect the red blood cells. When the parasites are in the blood, this is usually when the patient has chills and fever.

While mosquitos are the most common cause of malaria, it is not the only way to contract malaria. 

People can contract malaria from infected blood. For instance, sharing needles for drug abuse and blood transfusions could spread malaria. Additionally, a mother could give malaria to her unborn child. 

Risk of Developing Severe Illnesses from Malaria

There are some groups of people who are more likely to develop a severe disease from malaria. The following groups can include:

  • Mobile populations and migrants (due to lack of partial immunity)
  • AIDS/HIV patients
  • Children who are under 5 years old
  • Infants 
  • Pregnant women
  • Poverty, little or no access to healthcare, lack of knowledge are also factors that affect the severity of illness.

A person could develop partial immunity to malaria after repeated attacks, which lessens their chances of developing severe disease. This immunity may wane in time, however.

How is Malaria Diagnosed?

A doctor may ask about travel to places where malaria is endemic such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and the Amazon Region, among others. He may also inquire about family history. A doctor may also perform a physical exam to check if your liver or spleen is enlarged.

To confirm your diagnosis, a doctor must do extra blood tests. The blood tests will detect the parasite and identify the type of malaria species. Tests will check if there is any anemia or organ damage.

What are the Complications of Malaria?

Malaria could lead to life-threatening complications namely:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Anemia 
  • Spleen, liver, or kidney failure
  • Pulmonary edema, which is breathing problems caused by fluid in the lungs
  • Cerebral malaria, which is swelling blood vessels in the brain

How Do You Prevent Getting Malaria?

An ideal way to prevent getting malaria is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito. You could use a mosquito net at night and cover exposed parts of your body with mosquito repellent. When leaving home, wear clothes that cover up your skin and applying insect repellent over exposed areas.

Additionally, a doctor may offer you drugs to prevent malaria several weeks before going to a place where malaria is common. It is important to complete the course prescribed even after returning from travel in order to be fully protected.

How Do You Treat Malaria?

It would be ideal to treat malaria as early as possible to avoid life-threatening complications. It would be best to have a doctor diagnose you right away if you experience symptoms or have gone to an area where malaria is common.

A doctor may prescribe drugs for you to take for malaria. The length of treatment and kind of drugs may depend on the kind of malaria you have, how sick you are, if you are pregnant, age, where you were infected, etc.

Malaria warrants physician management. Home remedies cannot cure malaria or help you deal with harmful complications.

Key Takeaways

While malaria can pose life-threatening complications, malaria is also widely preventable. By understanding malaria symptoms and precautions, you can better protect yourself and prevent contracting the diseases, especially when traveling to countries where it is endemic. 

If you think you are experiencing symptoms of malaria and have traveled to countries where malaria is endemic, it would be best to see a doctor immediately. 

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Kristina Campos, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Den Alibudbud · Updated Aug 30, 2022

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