Diagnosing Malaria


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In order to diagnose Malaria, the doctor will need to take a blood sample so that they can work out whether the parasite is present in the blood. They can also work out the type of parasite that you are infected with and how to proceed with treatment from this sample.

There are a number of things that a doctor can look for when they have obtained a blood sample. They can create a blood culture and look at the levels of haemoglobin present in the blood. The parasite uses haemoglobin as a nutritional source and a decrease by approximately 25% in haemoglobin levels can indicate malaria. The doctor can also look at the platelet count as the presence of thrombocytopenia can indicate malaria. Usually, there is a triad of thrombocytopenia, atypical lymphocytes and an elevated level of lactate dehydrogenase amongst travellers, which indicates malaria.  The doctor can also carry out a blood smear to work out the amount of parasites in the blood and the type of parasites present. PCR can also be used to determine the parasite in the blood.

The doctor may also perform chest radiography to see if any of the respiratory symptoms are present. There are no physical findings that will indicate malaria and most patients present with non-specific flu like symptoms. The illness differs when diagnosing children as they may have other symptoms present. Also, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the type of parasite you have because under a microscope Plasmodium knowslei can look like Plasmodium malariae. The problem with this is that Plasmodium malariae is a more severe form so if they get mixed up, you may not realise how serious an illness you are dealing with.


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