Malaria Symptoms
Malaria Symptoms
Malaria is a parasitic infection spread by Anopheles mosquitoes:
The Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria is neither a virus nor a bacterium – it is a single-celled parasite that multiplies in red blood cells of humans as well as in the mosquito intestine. When the female mosquito feeds on an infected person, male and female forms of the parasite are ingested from human blood. Subsequently, the male and female forms of the parasite meet and mate in the mosquito gut, and the infective forms are passed onto another human when the mosquito feeds again. Malaria is a significant global problem. There are approximately 216 million cases of the disease worldwide, killing about 655,000 people every year. Malaria is prevalent in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central South America, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Oceania (Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya, and the Solomon Islands). However, malaria is most prevalent in Africa where 60% of all cases are reported. In Canada, malaria is most often caused by travel to and from endemic areas. Each year, up to 1 million Canadians travel to malaria-endemic areas. This results in 350 to 1,000 annual cases of malaria in Canada and 1 to 2 deaths per year. Although the parasite has progressively developed resistance to several older anti-malarial medications, there are still many safe and effective medications both for treatment and prevention.

Symptoms usually appear about 12 to 14 days after infection. People with malaria have the following symptoms:
  • abdominal pain
  • chills and sweats
  • diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting (these symptoms only appear sometimes)
  • headache
  • high fevers
  • low blood pressure causing dizziness if moving from a lying or sitting position to a standing position (also called orthostatic hypotension)
  • muscle aches
  • poor appetite
In people infected with P. falciparum, the following symptoms may also occur:

  • anemia caused by the destruction of infected red blood cells
  • extreme tiredness, delirium, unconsciousness, convulsions, and coma
  • kidney failure
  • pulmonary edema (a serious condition where fluid builds up in the lungs, which can lead to severe breathing problems)

  • Treatment usually lasts for 3 to 7 days, depending on the medication type. 
    To get rid of the parasite, it's important to take the medication for the full length of time prescribed – don't stop taking the medication even if you feel better. If you experience any side effects, your doctor can recommend ways to manage them or may choose to give you a different medication. If you're travelling to a malarial region, you should take a course of preventive treatment. Medications similar to those used to cure malaria can prevent it if taken before, during, and after your trip. It's vital to take your medication as prescribed, even after you return home.
     Before travelling, check with your doctor or travel clinic about the region's malaria status. Risk of infection also depends on:
    • altitude (lower altitudes have higher risk)
    • camping vs. hotel stay
    • length of stay
    • rural vs. urban areas (rural areas have higher risk)
    • season (infection is more common during the rainy season)
    • time of day (night is worse)
    Since mosquitoes are night feeders, stay away from danger zones – particularly fields, forests, and swamps – from dusk to dawn to avoid being bitten. Use permethrin-treated mosquito netting when sleeping. Using mosquito coils and aerosolized insecticides containing pyrethroids may also help improve protection during this time. Wear long sleeves and pants, and light-coloured clothing. Put mosquito repellent containing DEET on exposed skin. Use products containing up to 30% DEET for adults and children over 12 years – higher concentrations can have serious side effects, especially in children. Children 12 years old and younger should use products containing 10% DEET or less. Do not apply more than 3 times a day on children 2 to 12 years old. For children aged 6 months to 2 years, apply no more than once a day of a product containing 10% or less of DEET. Effects of DEET last between 4 to 6 hours. DEET and sunscreen combinations are not recommended. If sunscreen is needed, apply the sunscreen first, wait 20 minutes, and then apply DEET.