Malaria Symptoms and Signs

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Doctor's View on Malaria Symptoms and Signs

Comment by Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by several species of parasites in the genus Plasmodium (P. malariae, P. vivax, P. falciparum, and others). Mosquitoes transmit the parasites to you. About 2 million deaths per year occur due to malaria, the majority of them being children. The largest numbers of deaths and infections occur in sub-Saharan African countries, but malaria can be found in some other tropical areas. Most people diagnosed with malaria in the U.S. have become infected while living in or travelling through a country where malaria is endemic.

Malaria signs and symptoms

After the initial mosquito bite, the incubation period is usually about one to three weeks but may range from a few days to about one year in some individuals. The initial symptoms are flu-like with fever, chills, muscle aches, and headaches. You may develop a cough, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Within a few days, cycles of chills (shaking chills), fever, and sweating episodes that repeat every one, two, or three days is typical for malaria patients. During these cycles, some patients are profoundly weak and have severe muscle aches and pains. Loss of appetite and weight loss can occur rapidly. You may develop jaundice (yellowing of skin and conjunctiva of eyes). Individuals infected with P. falciparum can further develop bleeding problems, liver and kidney failure, shock, seizures, and coma. P. falciparum infections can be lethal if not diagnosed and treated quickly; even with treatments, about 15%-20% of infected people die.

Malaria treatment