Despite South Africa entering its peak malaria season, many malaria cases are being misdiagnosed as COVID-19. Both malaria and COVID-19 have similar non-specific early symptoms including fever, chills, headaches, fatigue and muscle pain. Undiagnosed and untreated malaria rapidly progresses to severe illness, with a potentially fatal outcome.
Any individual presenting with fever or ‘flu-like illness, if they reside in a malaria-risk area in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga or have travelled to a malaria-risk area, especially Mozambique, in the past six weeks, must be tested for malaria by blood smear microscopy or malaria rapid diagnostic test. If they test positive for malaria, the patient must be started on malaria treatment, immediately.
Patients must remember to inform their healthcare provider of their recent travel, particularly to neighbouring countries and malaria risk areas in South Africa, so that the healthcare provider is made aware of the possibility of malaria.
Odyssean or “taxi malaria”, transmitted by hitch-hiking mosquitoes, should be considered in a patient with unexplained fever who has not travelled to a malaria-endemic area, but is getting progressively sicker, with a low platelet count.
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