What are the Symptoms of Malaria?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The symptoms of malaria can occur between a week and month after exposure to the parasites which cause malaria, and in people who take antimalarial drugs, the symptoms may be suppressed, appearing even later. Recognizing the symptoms of malaria and getting treatment early can prevent damage caused by the disease, and provide the patient with information which can be used to manage malarial attacks in the future and prevent reinfection.

Malaria is transmitted through mosquito bites.
Malaria is transmitted through mosquito bites.

Several different forms of malaria can appear, but all are usually characterized by an early stage in which the patient experiences chills and trembling, with some children developing seizures. After the so-called “cold phase” is over, symptoms of malaria can include shivering, fever, loss of appetite, headache, nausea, vomiting, aches and pains, low blood pressure, dry cough, jaundice, sweating, fatigue, and enlargement of the liver or spleen. The symptoms of malaria are often described as “flu-like.”

Fever, headache, and nausea often occur during the second phase of a malarial attack.
Fever, headache, and nausea often occur during the second phase of a malarial attack.

It is a good idea to seek medical treatment when the symptoms of malaria are identified. A doctor can determine which parasite is responsible for the patient's illness, and prescribe an appropriate medication. Many malaria parasites are resistant to a broad spectrum of drugs, which means that the patient will need follow up to confirm that the infection has been resolved. When caught early, patients may be cured completely, but patients can also develop persistent long-term infections which never resolve, plunging the patient into malaria attacks periodically.

An acute malarial attack can last several hours, and in patients with severe malaria, they may be unable to function because the symptoms of malaria are so extreme. Other patients experience low grade symptoms which cause discomfort, but not total disability. During attacks, antimalarial drugs can be used to suppress the symptoms and keeping the patient more comfortable, and patients with a history of malaria can take such drugs to prevent re-infection and to minimize symptoms when they do develop a bout of malaria.

Prophylactic antimalarial drugs can be taken to prevent infection. These drugs can be very expensive, however, which makes them difficult to access for many residents of regions in which malaria is endemic. Other preventative measures can include mosquito control to reduce the number of mosquitoes transmitting the parasite, along with the use of insect screens on homes and tents and insect repellent on the body to prevent insect bites. Especially in areas where malaria is a recurrent problem, people should take every possible precaution to prevent infection.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I think the reason that the symptoms of malaria are not always apparent to US doctors is because they're not familiar with the disease. Most US doctors have not seen a patient with malaria before. Tropical disease specialists will recognize the symptoms of disease right away.


I learned that malaria has flu like symptoms from a news article I saw a few days ago. The article was about a businessman who died from malaria. He was in Asia for a business trip and got infected. He didn't develop any early symptoms of malaria until he was back home for a while, so everyone thought that he had the flu. He had typical flu symptoms -- fever, fatigue, chills and sweats. He was eventually diagnosed but it was too late.

I think everyone who travels to a malaria stricken country needs to watch out for these symptoms even after they return. And a doctor needs to be seen immediately. Most travelers use anti-malaria drugs before, during and after they return. So it's not an issue for most people. I don't know why some people don't take their precaution and take malaria drugs when they are traveling.


My mom's side is from the Middle East and my grandmother who grew up there told me about the time she had malaria. She didn't know what it was, but said that she had chills and shivering for a long time and eventually, it went away. I think my grandmother was very lucky because she survived the disease without medications. I think malaria has been eradicated in most of the Middle East now.

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