Every year on April 25, World Malaria Day is observed. The disease, which thrives mainly in tropical nations, is spread to humans by some types of mosquitoes. According to the World Health Organization, "World Malaria Day is an occasion to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria prevention and control. It was instituted by WHO Member States during the World Health Assembly of 2007."
World Malaria Day: Symptoms Of Malaria
Malaria symptoms usually start within 10-15 days of getting bitten by an infected mosquito. As per WHO, "The most common early symptoms of malaria are fever, headache, and chills. Symptoms may be mild for some people, especially for those who have had a malaria infection before. Because some malaria symptoms are not specific, getting tested early is important."
The WHO lists some severe symptoms of malaria:
- Extreme tiredness and fatigue
- Impaired consciousness
- Multiple convulsions
- Difficulty breathing
- Dark or bloody urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Abnormal bleeding
"People with severe symptoms should get emergency care right away. Getting treatment early for mild malaria can stop the infection from becoming severe. Malaria infection during pregnancy can also cause premature delivery or delivery of a baby with low birth weight," shares WHO.
How To Differentiate Between Covid-19, H3N2 influenza, and Malaria
Since the symptoms of malaria are often like most other flu, it becomes tricky to distinguish especially in this flu season. Dr Vijay Kumar Gurjar, Senior Consultant and Head of the Department of Geriatric Medicine, Primus Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi, shares, "Amidst the spurt in viral flu infections, it can be challenging to distinguish whether the fever and body aches experienced by individuals are caused by Covid-19, H3N2 influenza, or mosquito-borne malaria. While Covid-19 is anticipated to be on the verge of turning endemic from the pandemic, the country recently witnessed a huge spike in the cases of H3N2 influenza as well. And, once monsoon will hit the ground, malaria might season out to pose a surging risk in the days ahead."
Despite the different modes of transmission, the primary symptoms of these illnesses are similar, starting with fever and body aches. However, closely monitoring the varying symptoms having slight differences can be beneficial in distinguishing between Covid-19, H3N2 influenza, and malaria, says Dr Gurjar.
Dr Vijay Kumar Gurjar lists out the following points to differentiate the three:
1. Transmission mode: Malaria is distinct from Covid-19 and H3N2 in that it is not transmitted from one individual to another. This is because the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria is spread via bites from infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. In contrast, the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets, while the H3N2 influenza virus can spread through both respiratory droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces.
2. Symptoms that make the difference: Besides some similar symptoms like fever, headache, and bodyache, there is also a multitude of symptoms that differs significantly in the case of three. With malaria, prominent symptoms include chills, muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting among others, and if left untreated it can turn severe and debilitating resulting in complications such as anemia, kidney failure, and cerebral malaria, which can be life-threatening. Whereas in the case of Covid-19 and H3N2 influenza, fever, cough, fatigue, sore throat, and runny nose are the primary symptoms. However, Covid-19 also presents with additional symptoms such as loss of taste or smell and shortness of breath.
3. Incubation period: The duration of the incubation period plays a crucial role in distinguishing between these illnesses. Covid-19 symptoms usually manifest between 2 to 14 days following exposure, with an average incubation time of 5-6 days. In contrast, the H3N2 flu virus has an incubation period of 1-4 days, whereas malaria's incubation period can extend from 7 days to multiple months.
4. Treatment methods: Malaria is typically treated with antimalarial medications alongside effective measures to contain mosquito spread. In contrast, Covid-19 necessitates a multipronged approach including medication, supportive care, and vaccination. On the other hand, H3N2 influenza is managed using antiviral agents along with symptomatic treatment to alleviate fever, cough, and sore throat.
5. Tests that determine the infection: Determining the kind of infection is responsible for similar symptoms from three different diseases, there are distinguished diagnostic tests available. The most commonly used method to detect malaria is the microscopic examination of blood smears, which is based on the detection of the malaria parasite in red blood cells. Alternatively, rapid diagnostic tests that detect malaria antigens in blood samples are widely used due to their ease of use and rapid turnaround time. The diagnosis of H3N2 influenza is typically made using antigen tests that detect the viral antigen in respiratory secretions, while PCR-based assays can provide more accurate results. The diagnosis of Covid-19 relies heavily on PCR-based tests that detect viral RNA in respiratory secretions.
As Dr Vijay Kumar Gurjar points out, people need to consult with a doctor at the earliest and do the adequate tests to know what kind of flu they have.