Diagnosis of malaria — everything you should know


With a significant rise in the number of people suffering from malaria, it is one of the major health concerns in India. Most people tend to ignore the early signs of malaria, which can lead to severe health complications or even death if not treated in time. While getting tested and treated for malaria is the next step, here are a few things you should know about tests for malaria.

When should you get tested for malaria?

Dr Vineet Banga, MD pathology, specialist at government of NCT of Delhi says, ‘Most people, at the initial stage, experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, nausea, sweat, malaise (weakness and discomfort), muscle aches and vomiting. If you are not well and have any of the these symptoms, get tested for malaria without delay.’ Here are 11 complications of malaria you should know.

If you experience flu-like symptoms that have not subsided in 2-3 days, Dr Abha Shroff, chief pathologist and director at Disha Pathology Labs, Mumbai suggests visiting a doctor as you could be at risk of suffering from malaria. See a doctor if –

  • You reside in an area where several cases of malaria have been reported in the past few days.
  • You are exposed to mosquitoes.

Diagnosis of malaria – How is it done?

PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) and antibody tests are also known to detect malaria but are not commonly preferred as they are expensive. The parasite is readily detected by blood smears and antigen tests — the commonly used tests to detect malaria.

#1 Peripheral smear for malaria parasite

Also known as blood smear, a thick and thin smear is made from a drop of blood. The smear is stained and observed under a microscope for malaria parasite.

Significance of the test: The presence of Plasmodium in blood confirms the diagnosis of malaria and also differentiates between the four common types of parasite – Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malariae. It is important to distinguish between these types since the treatment for each could vary. Read: How is malaria treated?

When to do the test: According to Dr Banga, this test should be done when the patient is experiencing chills and fever.

Cost of the test: The approximate cost of this test is Rs. 150.

Availability of reports: The reports of this test can be availed on the same day of testing.

#2 Rapid malaria antigen testing

This test requires around 2 ml of blood sample, which is put on a testing strip to diagnose malaria. This test detects malaria antigens (proteins) in the blood sample. The occurrence of a band on the strip indicates a positive result.

Significance of the test: ‘Some rapid tests may detect all four common species (P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale and P. malariae) but may not distinguish between them. Hence, it is recommended that a positive result of this test be supplemented with blood smear test to confirm and determine the presence of the parasite,’ explains Dr Abha Shroff. Did you know these top 5 promising researches in malaria treatment, prevention and control?

When to do the test: The test does not require any prerequisite conditions like empty stomach or presence of high fever. It can be done at any time of the day or according to your doctor’s recommendation.

Cost of the test: Cost of the rapid malaria test ranges from Rs 350 – Rs 500.

Availability of reports: The reports of this test can be availed on the same day of testing.

What you should know about the tests?

Dr Abha sheds light on few important things you should keep in the mind when getting tested for malaria

  • The malaria parasite can be detected at any time of the day, there is no need to fast before getting tested for malaria.
  • It is preferable to draw a blood sample when the fever is rising to reduce the chances of false negative results.
  • If the first blood test for malaria does not show the presence of malaria parasites and the doctor suspects malaria, the test can be repeated every 8 to 12 hours or whenever the patient is experiencing high fever.

Note: If you’re already on medication for malaria, the test may give a negative result. Here are 10 natural ways to keep your home mosquito-free.

Are there any additional tests your doctor may recommend?

In some cases, the doctor might recommend G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate) test. This test is used to determine the deficiency of G6PD, an enzyme. As premaquin, a medication used to treat malaria, can lead to hemolysis (breaking of blood cells), people with G6PD deficiency should not take this medication. In such cases, doxycycline is recommended. Hence, getting tested for G6PD helps in the treatment of malaria. Read about 5 ways to save your baby from mosquito bites.

Diagnosis of Swine flu – what you should know about the deadly H1N1 virus

Swine flu has already claimed so many lives across the nation and the toll is rising. Although precautionary measures to tackle swine flu have been employed by the Government, it is up to the patients to follow them properly and get tested, if they experience symptoms of this disease caused by H1N1 influenza A virus. The diagnosis of swine flu is usually based on the symptoms and the clinical history of the person.

Dr Abha Shroff, chief pathologist and director at Disha Pathology Labs, Mumbai explains, ‘As swine flu is a viral infection of the respiratory system and characterized by flu-like symptoms, a throat swab is one of the most effective ways to detect the virus. Other tests that are done include mucus test and blood test.’ However here are few things you need to know about diagnosis of swine flu:

  • There is no need to prepare for the test such as fasting before getting test. However, do not use mouthwash before going for the test as it may cleanse the microbial load present in the throat region.
  • If symptoms such as fever, cough or body pain do not subside within 2 – 3 days, then you should visit your doctor. Based on your symptoms and the severity of the infection, he/she may recommend tests or start with treatment for flu. Here are swine flu symptoms and signs you MUST be aware of!
  • As it takes around one day’s time for the symptoms to be seen after infection with the virus, it should be noted that those who are infected are contagious from a day prior to the sickness and around 5-7 days after the infection subsides.
  • Children, pregnant women and those suffering from life-threatening diseases and having low immunity are at an increased risk of infection and hence, if they experience any flu-like symptoms they should get tested to prevent spread of the infection.

Your doctor might conduct physical examination such as checking your body temperature and infection of the mouth, prior to ordering lab tests to detect swine flu. The common laboratory tests that are done to diagnose swine flu include:

Throat swab – DrPrakash Jiandani, director of critical care unit, Wockhardt Hospital, South Mumbai
mentions that,

‘This is done to identify the cause of the throat infection or respiratory infection. Your doctor will take a sample by rubbing sterile cotton swab at the back of your throat (namely near the tonsils). In some case, scrapping the area with the swab several times is done as it increases the chances of detection of the microbes.’

Mucus test – It involves analysis or testing of the nasal secretions (nasopharyngeal fluid) to detect the virus. The viral culture or sample is taken from the patient’s nose or mucus secretion around 4 – 5 days after being infection. This is because, the virus spreads easily during this stage and hence, the chance of infection is high. Read about is swine flu curable?

Blood test – As viral infections normally do not cause any changes in the routine blood test, a complete blood test (CBC) is also recommended. With the help of blood test, bacterial infection leading to flu-like symptoms may be ruled out.

Chest X-ray – This test might be recommended to detect the severity of the lung infection caused due to viral infection. This is usually prescribed for patients severely affected by swine flu and not every person suffering from this disease needs to undergo this test.

Urine test – Although urine test is not a mandatory test to detect swine flu, it is done in some cases to rule out urinary tract infections and related health complications.
These are common tests that are done to diagnose swine flu, however your doctor might recommended other tests as well to rule out other diseases. Even if the tests are positive, there is no need to panic as medications are available to get treated. Here is everything you should know about swine flu treatment and medicines — Tamiflu, Relenza and more.