Your Health A-Z

Could I have malaria?

Symptoms of malaria infections present only once the parasites infect the red blood cells. This commonly occurs 10 to 14 days after an infective mosquito bite. This window (incubation) period may, however, be prolonged, especially if prophylactic medicines (or certain antibiotics) have been taken.

Symptoms of malaria infections

Symptoms may initially resemble a non-specific flu-like illness with one or more of the following:

  • fever (although common, fever may be absent in some cases)
  • rigors
  • headache
  • sweating
  • fatigue
  • myalgia (back and limbs)
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhoea
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • cough and/or sore throat
  • chills
  • muscular pain

In young children, malaria may present with fever, lethargy, poor feeding and vomiting.

The presentation of P. falciparum malaria (uncomplicated malaria) is very variable and may mimic many other diseases including influenza, tick bite fever, hepatitis, meningitis, septicaemia, viral haemorrhagic fever, trypanosomiasis, HIV seroconversion illness and urinary tract infection.

Pregnant women, young children and persons who have undergone a splenectomy or who are immune compromised, and debilitated individuals, are high-risk groups for the development of severe and complicated malaria. Life-threatening complications can develop rapidly in these patients.

How to tell if you may be infected

Awareness – be aware of your malaria risk

  • Location (see the below map)
  • Accommodation: Camping in rural areas is higher risk while staying in air-conditioned hotels in urban areas is lower risk.
  • Time of the year: Transmission is less during dry, cold months.
  • High-risk patients are children under 5 years old or pregnant patients.
  • Time of the day: Malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite at night, also high risk at dusk and dawn.
  • Did you take Malaria prophylaxis and did you complete the course?

Seek immediate medical help if you have any flu-like symptoms at any time up to six months 
after leaving a malaria area. 
For more on treatments, read here.

Malaria Risk Map

Taken from: South African Guidelines for the Prevention of Malaria 2017

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.