Do I have malaria?

QUESTION:

Hi, I went to Ivory Coast August/2003 back March/2004, took some pills to help prevent Malaria on my trip but ran out and did not get more. While I was there I got many mosquito bites.

Around October/03 became very sick, got tested for malaria at the hospital in Quebec but negative. Now May/2011 still have all the same symptoms, flu like symptoms, feeling cold most of the time, chills headaches, tired.

Is there any way I got it? I’ve gone to doctors and doctors and no one can seem to find what is causing this? I am tired of taking tylenols all the time for the body ache. My wife is from there and she’s so sure that I got it from seeing how I am since she’s been around it all her life. Can you help me?

ANSWER:

There are definitely types of malaria that can cause relapses of symptoms many months or even years after an initial infection. These types are not common in the Ivory Coast but if you had many mosquito bites then it is certainly possible that you were exposed. What kind of test did you have for malaria when you returned to Canada?

Often, the test is by looking at a microscope slide of your blood under the microscope—the problem with this test is that it is not very sensitive for low levels of malaria, for example, after the worst of infection, and especially with the types of malaria that cause relapse (these types, P. ovale and P. malariae being the ones you might expect from Ivory Coast, tend to cause less severe illness than the more common type of malaria in Africa, called P. falciparum, doesn’t relapse in the same way, but results in much higher levels of the malaria parasite in the blood, which makes it easier to diagnose on blood slides). Also, since malaria is relatively rare in northern countries like Canada, laboratory technicians are not as experienced at diagnosing the parasite as they are in countries where malaria is endemic.

Having said that, there are of course lots of other illnesses which also cause symptoms similar to that of malaria – fevers, chills, etc. What I would recommend is that you re-visit the doctor, and ask for a more sophisticated test for malaria. Mention that you have had a relapse of symptoms—this should prompt them to use more sensitive tests, such as PCR or a rapid diagnostic test, and to look specifically for P. ovale or P. malariae. Not only will this answer your question about whether you have malaria, but it will allow the doctors to give you the appropriate treatment for your current symptoms (probably chloroquine) as well as treatment to prevent any further relapses (primequine).

Hope this helps!

Comments

  1. Evans says

    Hi, I went to Tanzania last months. , took some pills to help prevent Malaria on my trip but couldn’t help me after I came back I’m very seck . While I was there I got many mosquito bite. Now it 4 weeks still have all the same symptoms, flu like symptoms, feeling cold o, chills headaches, tired.

    Is there any way I got it? I’ve gone to doctors and no one can seem to find what is causing this? I am very tired of taking tylenols all the time for the body ache. I’m sure it will be Malaria because I was born in tanzania and moved in Canada. I need help guys please. You can email me at evansmountainguide@yahoo.com

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    • Claire Standley, EditorClaire Standley, Editor says

      Hi Evan,

      It could be malaria, but as you may remember from your childhood in Tanzania, malaria cases rarely last more than a few days to a week without treatment (especially P. falciparum, which is the most common form of malaria in Tanzania). However, if you are still feeling sick, you should probably suggest the possibility of malaria to your doctor – if they are not able to perform the test, they should be able to refer you to a tropical medicine specialist or travel clinic that can do the diagnosis for you.

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