Malaria is a parasitic disease spread through the bites of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes bite to feed on your blood and if they have previously been infected with the malaria parasite, a single bite can infect you with malaria. Every type of malaria is serious, but the strain caused by Plasmodium falciparum is the most serious. Its symptoms can bring on severe illness very quickly and can result in death.
Malaria is present in most tropical regions of the world. If you are travelling to places with malaria, it is essential that you take action to avoid infection (see below). If you have visited places with malaria, you must be aware of the symptoms of infection and seek immediate medical attention should they occur – even if it is months after you have travelled and you took malaria tablets to cover your trip. This is because it is still possible for you to become infected, although far less likely.
Symptoms of malaria normally start to show between 10 and 15 days after infection, but can be seen after as little as seven days. It’s also important to note that the parasite can lie dormant in the body so you could be without symptoms for a year or more. The main symptoms are flu-like and these include:
- Fever of 38°C or above
- Sweats and chills
- Feeling generally unwell
- Aching muscles
With some episodes of malaria, the fever works in cycles with an initial feeling of cold and shivering for an hour or so, then two to six hours of fever followed by extreme sweating. This repeats every two days or so.
Malaria falciparum symptoms can progress very quickly to breathing problems, fits, liver failure, shock, coma and death. If you experience any symptoms of malaria whilst travelling or upon return, you should seek emergency medical treatment.
Once malaria is caught, it can be very difficult to eradicate from your body unless treatment is initiated quickly. This is because the parasite can lie dormant, protected from anti-malarial treatments. If treatment can be started quickly, the parasite can be killed and most people will make a full recovery. The service offered here is not concerned with treating malaria if caught, but rather the prevention of infection.