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Malaria: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment


Malaria is one of the most notorious diseases that has afflicted humanity for centuries. Malaria is not just your fever, it is a life-threatening illness that is caused by parasites transmitted when an infected female Anopheles mosquito takes a blood meal. When you are infected with malaria, you experience shaking chills and feverish. 

Malaria is very common in tropical countries compared with temperate climates. Over 200 million people are infected with malaria annually with more than 400,000 mortalities, especially in poor and middle-income countries.

As part of efforts to mitigate the impact of malaria disease, the World Health Intervention programs conducted a distribution of insecticide-treated nets and preventive drugs to prevent people from being bitten by infected female Anopheles mosquitos. 

For children living in high-prevalence areas, The World Health Organization has recommended a malaria vaccine as part of preventive measures.

Furthermore, insecticide-treated nets, preventive medicine, and protective clothing are essential preventive measures, especially when you are travelling. 

The worrying part of this disease is that most of the parasites developed resistance to the commonly used drugs for the treatment of malaria. 

Symptoms of Malaria

Malaria has the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Malaise
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle or joint pain

When you are infected with malaria, you experience a series of malaria episodes. An episode starts with chills and shivering, closely followed by sweating and a reversal to normal body temperature. 

The signs and symptoms of malaria commence within a few weeks following the infection while some species are known to reside in your body dormant for up to 12 months. 

When to consult your doctor

Consult your doctor if have signs and symptoms of malaria or if you have recently travelled to an endemic region with high malaria prevalence rate. If your symptoms are severe, book for emergency medical attention now. 

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Causes of Malaria

The causative agent for malaria is a single-celled parasite of the genus Plasmodium. The parasite is transmitted to humans when an infected female anopheles mosquito takes a blood meal.  Additionally, there are other ways in which you can get infected with malaria, such as blood transfusion and sharing needles used in injecting drugs. 

Malaria transmission cycle

Infection Cycle

You can get infected with malaria disease when an infected mosquito feeds on your blood. During this feeding process, the malaria parasites are injected into your bloodstream from where they will migrate to your liver. They will remain in your liver until their maturation after which they exit your liver and enter your red blood cells. This is the point where you will start noticing malaria signs and symptoms. At this stage, when an uninfected female Anopheles mosquito bites you, it will pick up the parasites in your bloodstream and it will become infected and can go on and spread them to the other uninfected people.

What are the risk factors?

There are several risk factors associated with malaria:

  • When you have a sickle cell disease
  • When you travel or live in an area where malaria is common
  • When you have a weak immune system
  • When you are pregnant

You need to know these risks to help you make informed decisions towards malaria prevention.


Malaria results in several serious complications, such as;

  • Anemia: 

Malaria disease causes a decrease in the volume of your red blood cells, which can result in anemia – a condition where you experience shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness.

  • Cerebral malaria:

This is a very serious form of malaria that can cause swelling in your brain – leading to coma, seizures, and death. It occurs when red blood cells containing the parasites obstruct the small blood vessels supplying blood to your brain. 

Your kidneys stand a risk of damage by malaria – leading to high blood pressure, fluid retention, and kidney failure.

  • Lung issues:

Malaria causes complications of the lungs including pneumonia, respiratory distress, and fluid in the lungs. 

  • Complications in pregnancy:

Malaria in pregnancy can cause low birth weight, preterm delivery, or stillbirth.

  • Neurologic problems:

Malaria can cause neurologic conditions, such as memory loss, personality changes, or headaches. 

Malaria prevention

There are several ways to avoid malaria, such as;

  • Use of mosquito nets:

Make sure to consistently sleep under mosquito nets that are treated with insecticide. Ensure your mosquito nets are hung over your bed and also kept in good condition to guarantee their effectiveness.

  • Insect repellant:

You can also prevent malaria by applying insect repellant to the exposed part of your skin to discourage mosquito bites and mitigate the risks of malaria. 

  • Indoor spray:

You can kill mosquitoes by spraying insecticide on your walls and ceilings. This helps to reduce the number of mosquitoes that can enter your home to bite you. Indoor spray is best engaged in areas where high levels of malaria infection. 

  • Intermittent preventive therapy:

This is another strategy used to prevent malaria. It is a process where people are given malaria preventive medication during a particular time of the year, especially during the rainy season.

  • Vaccine:

RTS is currently the only malaria vaccine available for use

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Malaria diagnosis

Malaria can be diagnosed with several tests, including:

  • Blood smear test:

This is the gold standard in the diagnosis of malaria. It involves looking at a stained blood smear of your sample under the microscope to ascertain the presence of malaria parasites. 

  • Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs):

This is an antigen-antibody test to detect the presence of malaria. It has the advantage of quick malaria diagnosis – in less than 15 minutes, they are also easy to use and can be conducted in remote areas where there is a lack of access to a laboratory. 

  • PCR test:

This is a highly specialised method of malaria diagnosis where a molecular test detects the genetic material of malaria parasites in your blood.

Treatment of Malaria

There are a few treatment approaches to malaria:

The first line of treatment for uncomplicated malaria disease is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). This is where you are given two or more drugs in combination to kill the malaria parasites. 

In cases of severe malaria infections, you will have to be hospitalized for proper care. 

Treatment for malaria also depends on the type of malaria, availability of medications, and your health. 

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How to prepare for your appointment

Any time you experience the signs and symptoms of malaria, or you feel you have been exposed, quickly book an appointment to consult with a doctor on Aegle Health App.

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