What is malaria?

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.

About 2,000 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States each year. The vast majority of cases in the United States are in travelers and immigrants returning from countries where malaria transmission occurs, many from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

What are the symptoms of malaria

The symptoms of malaria typically develop within 10 days to 4 weeks following the infection. In some cases, symptoms may not develop for several months. Some malarial parasites can enter the body but will be dormant for long periods of time.

Common symptoms of malaria include:

  • shaking chills that can range from moderate to severe     
  • high fever
  • profuse sweating
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • anemia
  • muscle pain
  • convulsions
  • coma
  • bloody stools

How is malaria diagnosed?

Your doctor will be able to diagnose malaria. During your appointment, your doctor will review your health history, including any recent travel to tropical climates. A physical exam will also be performed. Your doctor will be able to determine if you have an enlarged spleen or liver. If you have symptoms of malaria, your doctor may order additional blood tests to confirm your diagnosis. These tests will show:
  • whether you have malaria
  • what type of malaria you have
  • if your infection is caused by a parasite that’s resistant to certain types of drugs
  • if the disease has caused anemia
  • if the disease has affected your vital organs

Recommendations for the public

Protect yourself from all mosquito-borne diseases by preventing mosquito bites.
  • Wear EPA registered insect repellents whenever you go outside.
  • Cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants, especially at night when mosquitos are active.
  • Keep mosquitoes out by keeping doors and windows closed and/or installing window screens.
  • Prevent mosquitoes from breeding by dumping out standing water, keeping gutters clear, covering trash containers, regularly changing water in pet dishes and bird baths, and using mosquito larvicide in water that can’t be drained.
  • If you are traveling, check your destination and consult your healthcare provider to see if you should take prescription malaria medication.