Malaria | Infectious Diseases

Infectious Diseases


Malaria is a serious but treatable parasitic infection. Our infectious disease experts can quickly test and treat you.

Medically reviewed by Dean Blumberg, M.D. on Feb. 02, 2024.

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What Is Malaria?

Malaria is a parasitic infection. It does not spread from one person to another like a cold or flu. Malaria parasites often infect mosquitos, which can spread the infection to humans. Malaria can cause severe illness. Without quick treatment, it can be life-threatening for some people.

At UC Davis Health, our infectious disease specialists have expertise in diagnosing and treating malaria. We will determine which malaria parasite you have and provide the treatment you need.

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Malaria Symptoms

Most people start to feel sick within 7 to 10 days after infection. Sometimes, it can take up to a year for you to feel the effects of an infection. Symptoms of malaria can feel like flu symptoms. In more serious cases, it can cause you to develop anemia (low red blood cells) and jaundice (yellow skin).

Common Symptoms

Possible signs of malaria include:

  • Body ache
  • Chills and fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking

Emergency Symptoms

Seek immediate care if you experience any of the following:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Mental confusion
  • Trouble breathing
  • Yellowing of the skin

Causes of Malaria

Parasites cause malaria infection in humans. These parasites belong to the Plasmodium genus and include P. falciparum, P. malariae, P. ovale and P. vivax. These parasites first infect mosquitoes. Infected mosquitoes pass the parasite to humans when they bite them.

Malaria can also pass from one person to another through a blood transfusion, organ transplant or shared needles, but this is rare.


Diagnosing Malaria

The Division of Infectious Diseases at UC Davis Health can quickly detect whether you have been infected with malaria.

To diagnose malaria, we take a sample of your blood to perform a rapid diagnostic test and examine it under a microscope. If you think you could have an infection, get tested as soon as possible. Early treatment helps prevent severe infection and complications.

Treatment for Malaria

We treat malaria with prescription medications that kill the parasite causing the infection. The type of medication you receive depends on:

  • Your age and symptoms
  • Type of parasite
  • Whether you’re pregnant

Preventing Malaria

You can reduce your risk of a malaria infection. Talk to your provider if you plan to travel to a high-risk location. We may prescribe antibiotics that can protect you from getting infected. In addition, some ways you can protect yourself when traveling to areas at risk for malaria include:

Drain Standing Water

Mosquitoes breed in ponds, puddles and standing water. Removing them will keep mosquitoes out of your yard.

Wear Long Sleeves and Pants

Limit your exposure to mosquitoes by covering your skin with protective clothing.

Use Mosquito Repellant

Mosquito repellant helps protect you from mosquito bites. Repellants containing the chemical DEET are safe and effective.

How common are malaria infections?

2,000People in the U.S. are infected each year, almost all after travel from at-risk

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Malaria FAQs

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