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Anticipating Malaria Symptoms: Strategies for Early Detection and Control

Dr. Pankaj Mandale 429 Views
Updated: 08 Dec 2023
Published: 08 Dec 2023
Malaria Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Malaria is a serious illness caused by a parasite that lives and multiplies in the red blood cells. This leads to the destruction of red blood cells, making you ill. Usually, malaria is caused by mosquitoes that are infected by this parasite. Initially, malaria symptoms are like those of the flu. However, it can progress quickly and become fatal when not treated promptly. Even after the considerable progress made towards eliminating this disease in many countries, malaria is a major health problem in several tropical regions. It is crucial to detect malaria promptly to ensure timely treatment and prevent it from spreading further. Delay in its diagnosis and treatment is a prevalent cause of death in individuals suffering from malaria. So, here’s all you need to know about recognising malaria symptoms, and the detection and treatment of this disease.

Malaria Symptoms

The way malaria affects people can vary significantly from individual to individual. While some people experience little to no symptoms, others can suffer from severe illness. Malaria symptoms are divided into two categories - uncomplicated malaria and severe malaria.

Uncomplicated Malaria Symptoms

In the case of uncomplicated malaria, a person exhibits mild symptoms and shows no signs of severe infection or damage to any vital organs. It’s essential to keep in mind that if left untreated or in the case of those with low immunity, even uncomplicated malaria can grow into severe malaria. Uncomplicated malaria symptoms resemble those of the flu and usually last for 6-10 hours, recurring every alternate day. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Chills and fever
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Body ache
  • Mild jaundice
  • An enlarged liver
  • Feeling unwell
  • A higher rate of breathing

Severe Malaria Symptoms

Severe malaria can cause damage to various vital organs of the body. In cases of severe malaria, the disease-causing parasites have already affected more than 5% of the total red blood cells within the body. Severe malaria symptoms include:

  • Blood in urine
  • Severe Anaemia
  • Changes in blood clotting
  • Behavioural changes
  • Impaired consciousness
  • High acidity in body fluids like blood
  • Coma
  • Seizures

Malaria Diagnosis

Malaria is often suspected based on the individual’s symptoms, travel history and physical examination. However, to make a definitive diagnosis, it is necessary to conduct laboratory tests. Here’s how malaria is diagnosed:

Clinical Diagnosis

First, doctors conduct a clinical diagnosis based on your symptoms and the results of your physical examination. The initial malaria symptoms, like chills, fever, sweats, body aches, headaches, vomiting and nausea, aren’t very specific and are also associated with many other issues such as common viral infections and the flu. Similarly, the physical examination doesn’t offer any specific results either. For this reason, it can be challenging to make a definitive malaria diagnosis by only assessing the symptoms and conducting a physical exam, necessitating blood tests.

Blood Tests for Malaria

Blood tests are crucial for diagnosing malaria with certainty. There are two kinds of blood tests for malaria diagnosis, involving the analysis of a blood sample taken from a vein in your arm. These tests are:

  • Blood Smear Test: In this blood test, a drop of blood is placed on a special slide and a professional examines it under a microscope to check for the presence of parasites. This blood test is effective in identifying all kinds of malaria-causing parasites.
  • Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT): This blood test checks for the presence of specific proteins that come from malaria-causing parasites. It is a quick test that provides results in less than 15 minutes. However, this test is not helpful in identifying the type of parasite behind your illness. Since this information is necessary for your treatment, a blood smear is needed as well.

Malaria Treatment

Most people with malaria recover completely with the help of prompt treatment. Treatment of malaria disease includes:

  • Medicines for eliminating the malaria-causing parasite from your bloodstream.
  • Hospitalisation in case of severe symptoms
  • Supportive care
  • Intensive care in certain cases

The types of medications and the duration of your treatment will vary based on the type of malaria parasite that has infected you, the severity of your infection, your history with antimalarial drugs, your age and whether you are pregnant. The major antimalarial drugs prescribed include:

  • Chloroquine Phosphate: This is the most preferred treatment in case of infection with a parasite that’s sensitive to this drug. However, in several regions, parasites have developed resistance to this drug, making it ineffective as a treatment for malaria disease.  
  • Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs): This is a combination of multiple drugs that simultaneously work against the malaria-causing parasite in different ways. It is a preferred treatment for malaria caused by parasites that are resistant to chloroquine.

Other popular antimalarial drugs are:

  • Primaquine phosphate
  • Atovaquone-proguanil
  • Quinine sulphate with doxycycline

In case of individuals who develop any complications from malaria may require a combination of medications.

In a Nutshell

Malaria is a serious illness that can prove to be fatal if left untreated. Without proper treatment, malaria can cause damage to vital organs of the body. However, with prompt treatment, most individuals suffering from malaria recover fully. Early detection and prompt treatment are crucial to prevent this disease from causing fatal complications. If you are planning to visit an area where malaria is prevalent, then consult your healthcare provider and ask for antimalarial drugs you can take and strategies you can adopt to reduce your risk of infection. Anyone experiencing malaria symptoms should consult a healthcare professional at once to ensure quick detection.

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