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How Do Doctors Test for Malaria?

When a malaria mosquito bites you, a parasite enters into your blood stream and destroys oxygen-carrying red blood cells. You will usually feel sick within days or weeks. However, there are often cases of some parasites that can live in your body for a year without problems.


Malaria’s first symptoms are often the flu or a virus. You may not get help right away because of this. Since a delay in treatment can lead to death, early tests give you the best shot at recovery.
Some types of tests that a doctor may conduct to diagnose malaria:
Thick and thin blood smears: The most common and accurate malaria tests. In this test, a lab technician, doctor, or nurse will take some of your blood and send it to a lab to be stained to make any parasites show clearly. The technician spreads it on a glass slide and observes it with a microscope. Also called a blood film, a thin blood smear, is one drop of blood spread across most of the slide where as thick smear drops the blood on a small area and a normal test does two of each.
Rapid diagnostic test: Also called antigen testing, this is a quick option when blood draws and smears aren’t available. Taken from a prick on your finger, the blood is put on a test strip that changes color to show whether you have malaria or not. However the downside is that this test usually can’t tell which of the four common species of malaria parasites caused your infection nor can it tell whether the infection is minor or major. A follow up all results with blood smears should be done by the doctors.
Molecular test: This test can identify the type of parasite, which helps your doctor decide which drugs to prescribe. If your blood has low number of parasites or if the results of your blood smear are vague, this test is a good choice.
Antibody test: This test is used by doctors to find out if you’ve had malaria in the past. It searches for antibodies that show up in the blood after an infection.
Drug resistance test: Although there are some malaria parasites which can be resistant to drugs, doctors can test your blood to see if certain drugs will work.
Blood test: You may also have your blood drawn for a blood count and chemistry panel, in addition to other tests. The blood test can tell your doctor how serious your infection is and if it’s causing other problems, like anemia or kidney failure.