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.