How does malaria affect the body?
Signs and symptoms
The Plasmodium parasite typically begins attacking the body’s red blood cells within 48 to 72 hours. A person will start to feel the effects of the infection within a 10-day period.
It has been noted that some malarial parasites can lay dormant for certain periods of time and not develop any obvious symptoms for several months. This is one reason why travellers are encouraged to continue taking antimalarial medication after a trip to a high-risk area.
Typical symptoms of malaria are:
- A high fever
- Shaking and bodily chills (ranging from mild / moderate to severe)
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pain (Myalgia) and aches in the joints (Arthralgia)
- Bloody stools
- Anaemia (this can be severe)
- Coma (often seen with cerebral malaria)
The initial signs may be misinterpreted as the beginning stages of the flu (influenza) and typically come and go (cycles of fever, chills, sweating and muscle aches) every 48 to 72 hours.
In severe instances, malaria can lead to more serious complications where damage caused by the parasite affects the lungs (resulting in severe respiratory abnormalities, pulmonary oedema and impaired breathing function), kidneys (leading to renal failure and metabolic acidosis), heart and brain. If not sufficiently treated, this is life-threatening.