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Home / Travel Clinic / Malaria / Malaria Symptoms

Malaria Symptoms

Malaria symptoms can often be confused with that of the flu, which is why many people aren't aware that they have it straight away. This is why you need to monitor your condition within the first ten to 15 days after returning from your holiday in a malaria area. Other variants of the malaria parasite, such as plasmodium Falciparum, can cause you to experience malaria symptoms in as little as eight days after you've been bitten and tend to be one of the more lethal malaria parasites that can affect people.


Mild headaches are a common symptom of malaria. Respiratory problems such as dry cough can also be a symptom.


Stomach discomfort, vomiting and nausea are common symptoms of malaria. These symptoms are often mild and can sometimes be difficult to identify as malaria.


Flu like symptoms include cycles of chills, fever and sweating that repeat every one, two or three days are typical. Yellowing of the skin (jaundice) may also occur.


Symptoms may also include muscle pain and back aches.

Malaria symptoms

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

How will I know I have the malaria infection?

Symptoms of malaria may include a high temperature 38°C or higher, sweats and chills, a general feeling of being unwell, muscle pains, headaches and/or cough and diarrhoea. This is also known as a malaria attack, which is when red blood cells start to burst as a result of the parasite infesting them.

However, prior to a malaria attack, a person may experience flu-like symptoms that could gradually become worse and develop into an attack or may go away and only develop into an attack years later.

People who have been infected with the malaria falciparum parasite, the most common and deadly parasite, will normally experience the above malaria symptoms quite quickly after transmission and if treatment isn't started quickly the malaria infection could lead to extremely serious complications. For more benign plasmodium parasites, there might be a delay of a couple of months or years before malaria symptoms develop.

If you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms and you've been in a malaria area recently, it's a good idea to visit your doctor for some tests so that treatment can be started as soon as possible, even if you present malaria symptoms after having taken antimalarial medications.

What complications can the malaria infection lead to?

A malaria infection has the potential to be extremely serious and can be fatal if it’s not treated as soon as possible after the first malaria symptoms start to appear or after exposure.

If malaria is left untreated it could lead to anaemia, because it causes the destruction of red blood cells, which reduces the amount of oxygen being carried within your body, causing you to feel faint and weak.

In very rare cases red blood cells infected with malaria could be transported to the brain and block blood vessels to the organ. This is a condition known as cerebral malaria and can lead to swelling of the brain, which can result in brain damage, seizures or a coma.

Malaria can also cause breathing difficulties, changes in blood sugar, kidney and liver failure, jaundice, swelling and rupturing of the spleen as well as dehydration. It can also lead to spontaneous bleeding.

How is the malaria infection treated?

Ideally treatment needs to be started as soon as possible after you start experiencing the first malaria symptoms. Some cases of malaria can be treated without the need of hospitalisation, but more serious infections may require a stay in hospital to ensure effective treatment. Malaria treatment can take time, which is why there is such a big emphasis on prevention of malaria symptoms rather than treatment; however in both cases the same type of antimalarial medication is used.

View treatments for malaria

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Ranjan Pruthi MBBS/MS/MRCS Ed/MRCG Written by our editorial team
Last reviewed 27-07-2022

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