symptoms of malaria

What is Malaria?

Humans are affected by a disease called Malaria, which is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. In most cases the malarial infection is caused by transmission of the infection from the saliva of the mosquito into the human blood when the mosquito bites. It is only the female mosquito that injects the disease causing parasites into the blood. Once injected by the mosquito into human blood, the parasite instantly travel to the liver and from there it matures and reproduces manifold. The parasite matures in the liver and enter the blood stream and infect the red blood cells and multiply in just 48 to 72 hours.

Malaria also affects animals.

Malaria is not a contagious disease.

Causes of malaria

Malaria is caused only by an infected anopheles female mosquito bite only.

Even when the mosquito is not infected, it gets infected upon feeding a person with malaria and consequently infects the next person it bites. Thus the infection cycle goes on.

However, malaria does not spread from person to person except in the case of congenital malaria where the malaria from a pregnant woman spreads to the unborn child.

Malaria disease is wide spread in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Global researchers have attributed the spread of the disease to the development status of the population, malnutrition and economic conditions. That African countries are the most affected by malaria confirms the above findings.

The risk of contracting malaria is higher in case of pregnant women and the unborn child, infants and children and persons visiting areas prone to malaria even though they are from regions where malaria is not prevalent.

Besides mosquito bite, malaria is also caused by blood transfusion, organ transplantation or by re-use of the same needles and syringes.

Symptoms of malaria

Few or no symptoms may surface in regions where malaria is prevalent and when people get frequently infected by the malaria. Symptoms may also vary depending upon the type of malarial parasite, particularly in cases where the infection remains in the body even after treatment of the previous attack of malaria.

Parasites (plasmodium) have various species and each type lead to different symptoms and each respond to different treatment. Therefore, before commencing treatment the, type of malaria has to be ascertained clinically.

Based on the type of parasite that infects blood, symptoms surface in cyclic pattern depending upon the particular parasite that caused the infection.

Generally, it takes about seven to thirty days (incubation period) for the symptoms of malaria to surface.

Many of the symptoms of malaria are similar to that of bacterial or viral infections.

General symptoms

General symptoms of malaria are

  • Fever, sometimes intermittent
  • Shivering and chillness
  • Headache
  • Sweating abnormally
  • Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms like,

  • Dry cough
  • Back pain and or muscle pain
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Oozing out of blood through stools
  • Diarrhea

are also noticed in some  people affected by malarial infection.

Very rarely skin rashes may surface.

In rare cases, malaria can impair the functioning of the brain and the spinal cord. In addition, seizures and state of unconsciousness may also occur.


Some of the symptoms of malaria are found in other types of infections too. Hence, a proper diagnosis based on the blood tests alone reveal and confirm that a person is affection by malarial infection. The diagnosis based on the blood test will reveal the following:

  • if the person is affected by malaria
  • if yes, what type of malaria
  • if the parasite is resistant to any drug
  • if the malaria could lead to anemia
  • If it has the potential to damage other organs in the body.

Once diagnosed, the treatment pattern is decided based on the type of malaria and consequent symptoms and the severity of the symptom(s).

When is malaria dangerous?

Infection due to malaria can become fatal and cause death too in the following conditions:

  • When the blood cells in the brain swells and damage the brain leading to cerebral malaria
  • Acute breathing problems
  • Failure of vital organs due to infection
  • Irreversible condition of anemia
  • Low blood sugar level caused by continuous quinine consumption

Some types of parasites cause only mild symptoms and the malaria appear to have cured quickly but such parasites have the potential to remain in the body and cause relapse even after many years.

Preventive steps

If one is living in an area prone to malaria some of the preventive steps that can be taken to ensure against infection due to malaria are:

  • Mosquito net or propellant can be used during bed time.
  • Covering the body fully so as to avoid mosquito bites.
  • Using repellent sprays to prevent bites and infection.

Ramya Srinivasan, PDGBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. As a result of her passion in native medicine, she got her Diploma in Traditional Siddha Medicine from Bharat Sevak Samaj registered under the Indian Planning Commission. She is certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.