Malaria has always been characterised by high fever accompanied by chills and shivering. But with the vivax strain of the malaria parasite undergoing genetic mutation in the past few years, patients are showing additional symptoms including diarrohea, headache and persistent cough.
"In the past, when we used to see a patient coughing, we would rule out malaria because cough is usually caused by viral infections But this monsoon, a lot of malaria patients had a persistent cough for a week or more," said Dr Kushrav Bajan, intensive care physician at PD Hinduja Hospital, Mahim.
While severe complications occured only in cases of falciparum malaria earlier, now many patients suffering from the vivax strain are also developing liver/kidney failure, acute lung injury. These complications have made the vivax strain of malaria also fatal, said doctors.
"Two of my malaria patients are currently in the ICU. While one has suffered kidney failure, the other has problem in the lung," said Dr Hemant Thacker,
Doctors attributed the increased severity of malaria to the change in genetic make-up of the vivax parasite.
"Blood samples of many patients are testing negative for malaria for the first five or six days after onset of symptoms. This could be because of the mutation," said Dr Bajan.
In rare cases, doctors have noticed a link between decreased heart pumping function and malaria as the parasite affects blood circulation.
"Malaria was known to weaken heart muscles but recently a malaria patient suffered a heart attack at the hospital. Considering he did not have any other risk factors, we believe it could be because of blood clotting due to an unusual strain of malaria," said Dr Vijay Surase, interventional cardiologist at Thane's Jupiter Hospital.
Dr Anand Bhave, a medicine specialist in Thane, said malaria could affect the heart in "rarest of rare cases."
To avoid risks, doctors at Jupiter Hospital have decided to conduct electrocardiograms and 2-D echo scans for all malaria patients experiencing breathlessness.