What it feels like to have Malaria
Submitted by Coumba Makalou on June 5, 2007
When I contracted malaria, an infectious tropical disease caused by parasites found in the female anopheles mosquitoes, I probably had the virus in my system for about 3 weeks before I realized I was sick. I just felt extreme fatigue, headaches, a complete loss of appetite, and fever. It just felt like the flu.
I realized I had contracted the disease, when the infection was already quite advanced in my blood and I suffered from a sudden attack in the middle of the night. I awoke to what felt like lightning going through my legs, and then spreading through my body and in my head. Probably the worst headache, body aches, and chills you could possibly imagine. It felt like I was being stung repeatedly by an electric shock gun and could barely control my movements. The pain was so intense; I actually believed I was dying, literally crying out in pain so bad that I was taken to a 24 hour clinic that night at 3am.
Because Malaria is as common in Mali as catching a cold in the US, the clinic was not panicked at all when I came in. The nurse saw me and said nonchalantly like it’s the most normal thing, “Oh, you just have malaria. You’re lucky you came in because it can kill you”. They gave me tranquilizers for the tremors, anti-parasite injection and a blood test to confirm the diagnosis, and sent me home for the night.
The next morning they confirmed I had Malaria at 2++ levels which is a high level of contamination and deadly. The doctor put me on an intense shock treatment consisting of 2 injections a day and anti-malaria pills and painkillers. A treatment that he said would kill all parasites in my red blood cells within 5 days. So twice a day I went to the clinic to get my shot then took my arsenal of pills and slept most of the rest of the day.
After 5 days, I felt a little better, and thought I was cured. When my blood was tested, they discovered that I was still as infected 2++ and that a more severe treatment needed to be done. The reason I was still as infected, which I later found out, was because I had no antibodies against malaria, so my body was reacting just like a child that catches the disease for the first time. I needed to build antibodies to help kill the parasites on my own and strengthen by levels of immunity in the blood.
My next treatment put me on IV needle serums for 7 hours a day, 3.5 in the morning and 3.5 in the evening. As the serum was injected in my blood, I lay on a clinic bed for most of my day, and then I would go home. This treatment was painful and tiring because of the enormous amount of time I spent lying down unable to move because of the IV in my arm.
That treatment lasted 4 days, and I felt a lot better each time I did it. So I was shocked when I was told after completing the treatment that I was still sick. Now I had 1-2 levels of contamination. Then I turned to traditional medicines plants that are boiled and used by washing with and/or drinking. I did this because I could not stand to see another needle and did not want to do anymore serums, and people told me they worked. After a few days, of doing 2 types of plants popular and sold in pharmacies in Mali, I felt cured but still would suffer from fatigue, loss of appetite and sometimes fever. I then prematurely stopped the traditional medicine and got as many treatments from the pharmacy that I could take, including one combination drug that had been recommended by my doctor.
At that point, I was too afraid to go get another blood test as I could not mentally or physically handle any more treatment. Anyway, I was feeling much better and able to function normally.
It was a few weeks later, when I was working on my documentary on Malaria that I was given a test at the Malaria Research and Training Center laboratories in Mali and was cleared of all parasites that cause malaria.
When I learned more about the disease from the doctors working actively on the disease I realized that I was lucky to be alive. They had rarely seen someone keep such high levels parasites in their blood and not die. It was a rude awakening to the reality of Malaria—it’s dangerous, and it can kill anyone. I felt very grateful and happy to have survived Malaria and to be able to share my story with others.
I was sick for about 2 months. My entire treatment costs were more than $200 US. The average person in Mali makes less than $1 a day. One million children in Africa die from the disease each year, due to the extreme poverty levels and not being able to afford proper diagnosis and treatment. Every 30 seconds a child dies of Malaria in Africa.
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