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Malaria is a blood infection.


Causes    TOP

A parasite causes the disease. An infected mosquito passes the parasite to you through a bite on your skin. It settles in the liver and multiplies. Over time, it moves into red bloods, where it can kill them or spread to other red blood cells.

Malaria Cycle

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Risk Factors    TOP

Your risk may be higher if you live in or travel to tropical climates. This includes Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Preventive steps can help lower the risk.


Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms appear 10 days to 4 weeks after a mosquito bite. Medicines to prevent malaria can delay symptoms.

  • Fevers—as high as 106° F (41.1° C)
  • Chills and sweats
  • Muscles aches
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Yellow coloring of the eyes and skin— jaundice
  • Dark or discolored urine

If you traveled to places where malaria is common and you feel sick, call your doctor right away.


Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, and health and travel history. You will also have:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests

Treatment    TOP

Medicines will kill the parasite. The type of medicine depends on:

  • The type of parasite
  • Stage of infection
  • Where you traveled
  • Medicines you took to prevent malaria

Prevention    TOP

If you travel to areas where malaria is common:

  • Talk to your doctor about preventive steps before you travel.
  • Take any medicine to prevent malaria as advised.
  • Stay in places with screens or air conditioning.
  • Cover your skin with long clothes, socks, and shoes.
  • Use bug sprays that contain DEET.
  • Use mosquito netting or clothing treated with bug spray.
  • Keep in mind mosquitoes are more active during early morning, late afternoon, and early evening.
  • Tip out standing water in buckets, flower pots, or other containers. Mosquitoes breed in standing water.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization


Public Health Agency of Canada

Travel Health and Safety


Malaria. Center for Disease Control website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/malaria/index.html. Updated May 10, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2018.

Malaria. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114919/Malaria . Updated April 13, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2018.

Malaria and travelers for US residents. Center for Disease Control website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/index.html. Updated September 11, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2018.

Malaria prophylaxis for travelers. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115771/Malaria-prophylaxis-for-travelers . Updated April 13, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2018.

Mosquito avoidance. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115142/Mosquito-avoidance . Updated November 21, 2016. Accessed May 11, 2018.

Reimer LJ, Thomsen EK, Tisch DJ, et al. Insecticidal bed nets and filariasis transmission in Papua New Guinea. N Eng J Med. 2013;369(8):745-753.

8/31/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115142/Mosquito-avoidance : Enayati A, Hemingway J, Garner P. Electronic mosquito repellents for preventing mosquito bites and malaria infection. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(2):CD005434.

8/20/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114919/Malaria : Purssell E, While AE. Does the use of antipyretics in children who have acute infections prolong febrile illness? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Pediatr. 2013;163(3):822-827.

Last reviewed May 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/11/2018

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