Plasmodium Falciparum is one of four malaria parasites that can affect people and by far one of the most dangerous and is therefore the most likely to lead to fatalities. This parasite is responsible for most cases of malaria in humans, which is why so much emphasis is placed on malaria prophylaxis before you travel.
Other than Plasmodium falciparum, people can also be affected by Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malariae. Plasmodium malariae is least likely to cause a serious malaria infection and is quite rare, while Plasmodium ovale is similarly rare and 'mild' but can stay in the liver for years without causing any symptoms to a carrier. Plasmodium vivax is slightly more serious than the aforementioned two parasites, but not as likely to lead to complications as Plasmodium falciparum. Plasmodium vivax can stay in the liver for many years, leading to a possible relapse years later.
Plasmodium falciparum can cause symptoms to develop quite rapidly after infection, in some cases in as little as eight days. Complications are also likely to follow the first symptoms relatively quickly, which is why treatment within the first 24 hours is incredibly important.
Once the plasmodium parasite is in the blood, it travels to the liver, where it waits to mature. In the case for the falciparum parasite, this happens quite quickly. As soon as it’s ready, the parasite starts taking over red blood cells, eventually causing them to burst, leading to a malaria attack, which can be uncomfortable and extremely dangerous.
At first symptoms of a plasmodium falciparum infection might be no different from flu symptoms and they'd normally start around seven to eight days after the transmission of the parasite has occurred. However, symptoms could potentially be delayed if you have used antimalarial treatments on your trip.
These symptoms may then worsen, leading to a malaria attack, which is when the plasmodium parasite has started to cause red blood cells to burst. This attack could be signified by a fever higher than 38% that can fluctuate over the course of a couple of hours, headaches, influenza, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. In the case of plasmodium falciparum, this attack could lead to further complications.
Plasmodium falciparum could cause cerebral malaria, anaemia, pulmonary oedema and kidney problems. Cerebral malaria is extremely rare, but it can happen when the parasite within red blood cells causes them to stick together, resulting in obstruction of blood vessels to the brain, starving the brain of oxygen, leading to swelling on the brain.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a plasmodium falciparum infection, you need to go to a doctor as soon possible in order to get diagnosed. Although a doctor can generally relate from your symptoms or travel destination that you possibly may have an infection, they’ll have to conduct a blood test to ensure that the correct treatment is used and all other possibilities are ruled out.