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Home / Travel Clinic / Malaria / Malaria symptoms

Malaria symptoms

Learn how to spot the signs of malaria and know when to seek medical advice

Malaria is a serious infection caused by a parasite. It is spread by mosquitoes, with one bite being enough to pass on the disease.

Close-up of a mosquito on human skin

Read on to find out the symptoms of malaria, so you can get treatment as quickly as possible. If left untreated, malaria can become very dangerous, and even fatal.

What are the main symptoms of malaria?

Malaria symptoms can affect 4 parts of your body: head, stomach, muscles, and skin. Click on the different body parts to read more about them.


A mild headache that you might assume to be from a cold can also be a sign of malaria.


You might feel nausea, vomit or experience a stomach ache. Stomach symptoms are often mild and can end up being ignored.


You may experience cycles of cold shivers and sweating, along with a high fever. Malaria can also cause your skin to turn slightly yellow (jaundice).


Muscle aches, joint pain and back pain are also a sign that you’ve become infected with malaria.

Malaria symptoms

Click on the relevant area of the body to see examples of common malaria symptoms.

The first signs of malaria are often mistaken for flu, as they involve a high fever, headache and vomiting.

Other symptoms include:

  1. fatigue
  2. rapid breathing
  3. a fast heart-rate
  4. diarrhoea
  5. sore throat

If you fall ill after returning from a country with a malaria risk, you should seek medical attention to get tested for the parasite - even if you only have mild symptoms.

Malaria vs. typhoid symptoms

Another dangerous illness that puts travellers at risk is typhoid, which is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria.

Malaria and typhoid are both types of tropical fever, meaning that they are infections most commonly found in the tropical regions of the world.

If you have visited any tropical area, you should also be aware of the symptoms of typhoid - some of them are the same as malaria.

Malaria Typhoid
Stomach pain
Skin rash (red spots)

If you do not treat typhoid it can become very dangerous or even deadly. If you think you might have become infected, see a doctor straight away.

How long after a Malaria infection will I get symptoms?

The incubation period (time that it takes to get sick after infection) can vary with malaria.

In general, it is advised that you pay close attention to your health for 4 weeks after returning from a country at risk of malaria.

However, symptoms usually appear between 7 and 18 days Trusted source NHS Government Source Go to source after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Different types of malaria

There are 4 different malaria parasites that can infect humans. These are:

  1. p. falciparum
  2. p. vivax
  3. p. ovale
  4. p. malariae

The deadliest parasite is p. falciparum. This form of malaria spreads very quickly after infection, and has the shortest incubation period.

In rare cases, malaria symptoms can show up years after infection. This is because certain parasites (normally p. vivax) can live dormant in the body for long periods of time.

What can happen if I ignore the symptoms?

If left untreated, malaria can become dangerous fast.

The p. falciparum malaria parasite can progress from mild symptoms to severe illness and even death, in less than 24 hours Trusted source World Health Organization (WHO) Government Source International Public Health Information Go to source .

When malaria becomes severe, symptoms can include:

  1. seizures
  2. kidney failure
  3. liver failure
  4. low blood sugar
  5. shock

All types of malaria need quick medical action. However, with treatment, most people will have a full recovery.

When to seek medical attention

If you think you’ve been infected with malaria, you should seek medical help quickly (within 24 hours of your first symptom).

Malaria is a serious infection that must be treated right away. If you think you might have it, call 111 or go to your local emergency department.

Want to prevent malaria?

Click here

As with all health conditions, prevention is better than treatment.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Anand Abbot MRCGP Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 25-04-2024

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How to prevent malaria

How to prevent malaria

Reviewed by Dr. Anand Abbot
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