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.
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.”
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.