WHAT IS MALARIA?
Malaria is caused by by the protozoan parasite Plasmodium. 4 species of Plasmodium (Plasmodium vivax, P. ovale, P. falciparum and P. malariae) cause malaria in the human body. The parasite spreads via mosquito bites (female Anopheles). This can be a deadly disease if left untreated.
WHY TEST NEEDED
Malaria is a fatal yet preventable disease. Generally, victims who get bitten by parasite-carrying Anopheles (female) do not show any symptoms until 10-28 days. The first symptoms may include the following.
- Muscle ache
These symptoms are non-specific, meaning that these can also be found in other diseases. For this reason, the best way to diagnose malaria is through laboratory testing where an expert technologist or technician can distinguish the 4 species of malaria parasites. To identify the parasites, the blood of the patient is collected and examined under a microscope.
DIAGNOSIS OF MALARIA – HOW IS IT DONE?
A blood sample is collected from the patient’s body through a sharp needle from a vein.
Testing helps to diagnose malaria, to monitor relapses and to determine the parasite’s drug susceptibility. The diagnosis also includes blood smears. Laboratory Technologists and Technicians use thick and thin blood smears to identify any possible malaria parasites in the blood sample. A blood smear is a drop of blood which is spread onto a glass slide.
The presence of Plasmodium confirms malaria. It is also important to detect the species of Plasmodium as each ones treatment may vary.
WHAT DOES THE MALARIA TEST RESULT MEAN?
The test looks for Plasmodium parasites in the blood. The test also determines which species of malaria is present in the body.
If the test results is negative, then you don’t have Plasmodium parasite in the patient’s blood. A positive result confirms that the patient is infected by malaria. The identification of the species is important to determine the risk level. Especially P. falciparum which is the most dangerous.
RDT (Rapid Diagnostic Tests) is another method of identifying malaria by checking the malaria antigens. Malaria parasites produce antigens that can be detected and said to be positive. If the antigens are not present, the result will be negative. Different RDTs identify different antigens. Some antigens are produced by specific parasites whereas other species may produce the same types of antigens (P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae). If an antigen is present, the particles will stick to a band on the RDT that’ll create a visible colored line in the test area.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW?
A few notes have to be kept in mind when you are diagnosed with malaria.
The parasites can be found in the blood. However, it is preferable to take a blood sample when the body temperature is rising to mitigate the chances of getting a false-positive.
If the test result does not detect any malaria parasite in the blood and doctor highly suspects malaria, the same test can be performed again after 8-12 hours, or whenever the patient is feeling a high fever.
In some cases, additional tests must be performed for checking complications. Those tests include CBC (Complete Blood Count) also known as Full blood count (FBC) and Blood Chemistry (electrolytes as well as kidney & liver function). The doctor may also suggest G6PD (Glucose-6-phosphate) test. G6PD is an enzyme. People with G6PD deficiency can have hemolysis if Primaquine is prescribed. In this case, Doxycycline is recommended.