Symptoms of Malaria in Kids You Might not Notice


What are the sure shot symptoms of malaria in kids?

Does your little one have malaria?

What are the signs of malaria in children?

My child’s fever keeps recurring, could it be malaria?

Can it put my child’s life in danger?

symptoms of malaria

Malaria is an illness that can zap the strength of adults, so imagine the plight of kids. I remember my dad going through a bad bout of malaria.

For me, he was the strongest person in the world and nothing could fluster him. But when I saw what malaria did to him, I thought that it was the worst disease that you could ever get.

Now that I am older, I wonder how it could affect the little ones. Even if they are down with something as small as a common cold it can make our hearts ache and make us sick with worry.

It is quite easy to get confused between the symptoms of malaria and high fever. Kids are often unable to explain their symptoms and babies rely on us. So how do you know if it is just a fever or if it is something else? We will help you find out.

What is malaria?

Malaria is a disease that is caused by parasites and it is spread from one infected person to another through mosquito bites, anopheles mosquito to be specific. The severity of the disease depends on the strain of parasite causing the illness.

Although this is the most common way a person gets the disease, there are rare instances of it having spread through

  • Blood transfusion

If you have accepted blood from a donor who was suffering from malaria at the time of blood transfusion.

  • Organ donation

Just like in blood donation, if an organ donor is affected with malaria, then the person who gets that organ can also be affected.

  • Usage of shared needles

It is mandatory that you use disposable needles for injections and anything that involves the use of needles. It is not just malaria that you have to be worried about, sharing needles can lead to making your body susceptible to various ailments.

  • Congenital

When a mother passes the disease to her unborn child.

Malaria is a curable disease but in children younger than 5, malaria can be serious. Mosquitoes that are carriers of the disease are known to bite at night.

You can read about the 10 ways to protect babies from mosquito bites.

When does malaria become rampant?

While cases of malaria are seen all-year, generally the monsoons see a spike in this disease. This is because the monsoons provide the best conditions for mosquitoes to thrive. So humid conditions and stagnant pools of water are perfect conditions for these mosquitoes to breed.

It is interesting to note that fewer cases of malaria have been noted in hilly areas of the country making this more of a tropical disease.

Does that mean others won’t get it? No, it’s a small world.

A person who has been to a place where malaria is rampant can carry it back to his hometown!

When do symptoms start to appear?

The symptoms of malaria do not occur the moment right after your little one is bitten by a mosquito. The incubation period of malaria can differ depending on the type of parasite that has caused the illness.

The symptoms can appear in 7 days. At times the gap between the time of exposure and the appearance of the symptoms can be a whopping 8 to 10 months in the case of certain strains!

Symptoms of malaria in kids to watch out for:

As I said before malaria is difficult to diagnose due to the similarity in symptoms. It is very easy for you or at times the doctor to dismiss it as a normal fever. So make sure you keep an eye out for all the symptoms and update your doctor so he can diagnose your child correctly.

The symptoms of malaria presents itself after 10 days to four weeks after the parasite enters the bloodstream.

Malaria in children 5 years of age can be really severe so you can’t make mistakes. The symptoms of malaria in small kids can be different from that of older kids and adults.

Now let us look at the most common symptoms of malaria in kids.

#1. High temperature

This is the symptoms that can throw you off the track. A high temperature doesn’t always mean a normal fever, it could also be the sign of a serious infection or disease and in this case, malaria.

#2. Cold

This is yet another symptom that can cause you to think that all is well. But don’t worry, there are other symptoms to keep an eye out for so that you know what you are dealing with.

#3. Shivers

This is a symptom that most patients of malaria has had.

#4. Irritability and drowsiness

Kids can be moody at times but a sudden irritability coupled with drowsiness could be sign that he/she isn’t well.

#5. Sleeplessness

While some kids appear drowsy, some others may find it difficult to sleep.

#6. Stomach pain

Stomach pain is a symptom that was seen in some of the patients.

#7. Vomiting

Malaria can cause vomiting too. But it is easy for you to think that the stomach pain and vomiting is due to something he/she ate.

#8. Joint pains

Malaria can cause pains in the joints, older kids will be able to point this out to you.

#9. Hypothermia

In some cases, patients did not have a high temperature, instead they were cold and clammy.

#10. Rapid breathing

Malaria can cause your child to breathe fast.

#11. Lack of appetite

No mom thinks that her child eats well. But before you jump to the conclusion that your little one is suffering from malaria, think. Does he/she have any other symptom mentioned in this list? If yes, then take a doctor’s opinion.

#12. Cough

In some cases, the patients might have dry cough.

This how malaria manifests in children and adults. But in kids below 5 the symptoms could be slightly different. In such cases, the symptoms of malaria are as mentioned below.

Symptoms of malaria in children below 5 years:

The immunity given by the moms to their little ones help them to be able to withstand malaria during the first two months. But after that they become susceptible.

The fact that their immune systems aren’t strong enough makes it difficult for them and makes them more vulnerable than adults. Infants might not even show any symptoms. Often parents come to know quite late.

In small kids the symptoms of malaria are as follows.

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Anemia
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Poor sleep
  • Refusal to feed
  • Sudden spike in temperature
  • Sweating
  • Passing less urine
  • Seizures and convulsions

Why are the symptoms different?

The symptoms vary depending on the type of parasite and the health of the person who contracts the disease. There are various types of parasites that cause malaria. They are-

  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium ovale
  • Plasmodium malariae
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Plasmodium knowlesi

A common complaint in older kids and adults are the cyclic fever and other symptoms. The parasites settle in the liver and the red blood cells. They reproduce and get released into the blood. The symptoms keep coming and going based on the life cycle of the parasite that has caused the disease.

But we can’t use the cyclic recurrence of symptoms as a fool proof of detecting whether it is malaria because the P. falciparum does not cause cyclic symptoms. The malaria caused by P. falciparum parasite can be serious and fatal in some cases.

How can you know if it malaria?

You know there are different types of parasites causing malaria, which causes different symptoms. But while the symptoms of malaria can be misleading, the method of confirming it is actually.

All it takes is a simple blood test to know if it is malaria. This blood test will also tell your child’s doctor, which parasite has caused the illness.

The pediatrician can determine the course of treatment depending on the results of the test. So with this one blood test you can determine whether your little one is down with malaria.

What happens if your child’s treatment gets delayed?

The confusing symptoms can often cause parents to shrug off any doubts and self-medicate their child. But even a curable disease like malaria can become life threatening if the treatment is delayed. If that happens then it could affect the brain and reach a point of no return.

The issues that arise out of not getting treatment on time include-

  • Severe brain damage
  • Anemia
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Coma

How to ensure that your child doesn’t contract malaria?

You know the adage “Prevention is better than cure”? That is the best approach here as well. Whichever the strain be, they need mosquitoes. So we need to eradicate the mosquitoes.

Let us take a look a few tips that aid in malaria prevention for children.

  • Clear breeding grounds – Stagnant water is prime real estate for those winged monsters. Remove anything that can hold water and allow stagnation.
  • Light colored clothes – Believe it or not dark colored clothes are mosquito magnets so stick with light shades of clothes.
  • Cool areas are the best – Remember how I said malaria is more of a tropical disease? That is because mosquitoes favor the hot humid climate. Air conditioned and other cool areas are not places where you will find mosquitoes.
  • Dresses that offer full coverage Long sleeves and pants/ leggings will keep the body covered and will keep the skin from being exposed.
  • Mosquito nets and meshes – This is an easy way of keeping mosquitoes away. Get mosquito nets for the bed. Apart from mosquito nets, you can use mosquito meshes for the doors and windows. There are many models available in the market, so are easy to remove and fix which makes cleaning and set up easy. So you don’t have to make any major structural changes to home!
  • Stay away from mosquito havens – Apart from stagnant water, leafy hedges and bushes are also cause for concern as far mosquitoes are concerned.
  • Mosquito repellents – Mosquito repellents formulated for kids should be used during outings. You can read my review of chicco mosquito repellent gel.
  • Avoid areas where an outbreak was reported – This is an obvious one, by avoiding places where cases of malaria were reported you can avoid malaria.

If your child is tested positive:

If your little one is showing symptoms and then it is imperative that you take him or her to the doctor at the earliest. If your little one is tested positive don’t panic.

Apart from the medicines, you can help speed up the recovery process by doing some small and easy things.

You need to ensure that your munchkin,

  • Is getting plenty of rest

That parasite they are fighting will zap their energy, so they need to conserve all the energy they have.

  • Proper diet

A light but healthy diet rich in nutrients will help in his/ her fight against malaria.

  • Sponging

Frequent sponging will help to bring the temperature down.

Precautions to be followed:

  • What may look like a fever might actually be something else, so resist the urge to self-medicate.
  • If you think that the medicines are not showing any effect on your child, let your doctor know. As severe malaria can affect their brain function.
  • If your child is showing symptoms like seizures, loss of consciousness or appears confused he/she may have to be hospitalized.
  • The doses prescribed by the doctor has to be strictly adhered to.

Malaria can be scary, but with timely intervention you can cure it.

Malaria in children, especially in babies and kids below 5 years of age can be serious. This is because their immune systems are still developing.

Apart from that symptoms don’t manifest itself as they do in older kids and adults. The symptoms are tricky to identify too. So if there is fever that doesn’t look normal, then take your child to a doctor.

Fortunately despite there being different strains of parasites that cause malaria, one blood test can determine whether your little one has malaria or not. If your child is diagnosed with malaria then ensure that you follow all the tips and precautions given above.

Hope you found this post on various symptoms of malaria in kids was informative.

Write to us in the comments if you have any doubts or queries.


About Author

A stay at home mom for a feisty 19 month old named Ahaana, Chitra Santosh has rekindled her romance with words once again now. Though Arakkonam is her home, she can be seen migrating to Mavelikara, a quaint little town in Alappey during summers. Studies have shown that this has no connection with the migratory patterns of birds.

1 Comment

  1. Hi. thanks for the very informative article on malaria in children. do you know if the sabi sands game reserve next to kruger park in south Africa is a problem with children (ages5,3,1) in august (winter). thanks very much, Brett.

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