How Long Will it Take to Recover from Malaria?

Ask the experts

I was diagnosed with malaria after a trip to India, and I'm in between bouts of fever. I'm miserable, even though I'm undergoing the latest and best treatments. How long does it take to recover for malaria?

Doctor's response

Treatment of malaria depends on the number of different factors that include disease severity, the particular species of Plasmodium infecting the patient and the potential for drug resistance of the various species and strains of Plasmodium. In general, it takes about two weeks of treatment to be cured of malaria. However, in some individuals, relapses are possible.

The time period from initial parasite infection to the appearance of symptoms varies according to the particular species of Plasmodium that infects an individual. For example, P. malariae ranges from about 18-40 days, while P. falciparum ranges from nine to 14 days, and 12-18 days for P. vivax and P. ovale. Initial symptoms of malaria may include shaking chills, high fevers, sweating, headaches, nausea and vomiting, anemia, and/or diarrhea. Diagnostic tests include microscopic examination of the blood for the presence of parasites, serology, PCR testing, and other tests that determine if the parasite is resistant to certain drugs.

Travelers returning from malaria-endemic areas should remind health-care providers about their travels for at least one year after they have returned from that area of the world to avoid potentially missing the diagnosis of the disease.

If diagnosed early and if the appropriate antimalarials are available and used, the prognosis of malaria is very good.

Worldwide, malaria is responsible for over 400,000 deaths per year. The majority of victims are young children from sub-Saharan Africa. Death is usually due to lack of available treatment or access to treatment.

P. falciparum tends to be the species causing the most complications and has a high mortality if untreated.

Cerebral malaria, a complication of P. falciparum malaria, has a 20% mortality rate even if treated. P. vivax and P. ovale can hibernate in the liver and cause relapsing disease weeks or months after the patient is symptom free.

The FDA approved tafenoquine (Krintafel) as a medication to prevent relapses of Plasmodium vivax in patients 16 years of age and older. It is a single-dose medication that will provide a significant new tool in fighting P. vivax malaria relapse, according to researchers.

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Reviewed on 10/3/2018
References
Khuu, Diana, Mark L. Eberhard, Benjamin N. Bristow, Marjan Javanbakht, Lawrence R. Ash, Shira C. Shafir, and Frank J. Sorvillo. "Malaria-Related Hospitalizations in the United States, 2000-2014." The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 97.1 July 2017: 213-221.

Switzerland. World Health Organization. "Malaria." April 2016. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs094/en/>.

Tintinalli, Judith E., ed. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011: 1056-1062.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Malaria." June 16, 2018. <https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/malaria/index.html>.