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What are the Symptoms of Malaria in Children?

By Lindsey Rivas
Updated May 17, 2024
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The symptoms of malaria in children are similar to those of the flu, so it can be difficult to diagnose the disease. Children can experience fatigue, vomiting, chills, and fever, along with many other symptoms. In severe cases, children can develop kidney failure or become comatose from malaria. Although malaria is a curable disease, if it is left untreated, it can cause death.

Malaria in children is often caused by a bite from an infected mosquito, which introduces the malaria parasite into their bloodstream. Once inside the children, the parasites multiply in the liver and are then released back into the bloodstream where they destroy red blood cells. There are some parasites that remain in the liver, however, and keep multiplying so that more parasites are discharged into the bloodstream every few days. The destruction of red blood cells then triggers the symptoms of malaria.

Typically, malaria in children begins with symptoms of irritability, weakness, and fatigue. They might be drowsy but have trouble sleeping. Also, children with malaria hardly eat or drink anything due to a lack of appetite, and when they do eat, it can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, it is common for them to have a cough, headaches, and muscle aches, especially in the back and abdomen.

The next stage of symptoms of malaria in children includes chills, followed by a fever and rapid, labored breathing. A high-grade fever from 100-105°F (38-41°C) typically develops over one or two days. After the fever finally drops, children usually experience episodes of excessive sweating. The cycle of chills, fever, and sweating might repeat itself in two- to three-day intervals.

In severe cases, malaria in children can cause kidney failure and even comas. Children will have abnormally low urine production when malaria is affecting their kidneys. If malaria is affecting the brain and central nervous system, they can have convulsions, which can lead to unconsciousness or comas.

Most of the time, malaria in children is a curable disease as long as they get proper treatment. Anti-malarial medication can be given orally, by injection, or intravenously. Once treatment starts, malaria is usually cured within two weeks.

If it is not treated, malaria can be fatal. According to some studies, undernourished children are the most susceptible to death from the disease. The mortality rate of malaria is highest for children up to 2 years old, although newborns may have a brief period of immunity due to the antibodies received from their mothers.

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