When Deepak Dastar, a Malad resident, had a severe bout of diarrhoea he had no idea it would be malaria. Having had it last year, he knew the usual symptoms were fever and chills.
Dastar’s case is not unusual. Across the city, doctors are seeing malaria patients with symptoms that were earlier never associated with the disease. This monsoon, doctors believe, malaria will be one of the most challenging ailments to tackle.
With changing symptoms, doctors say that malaria is becoming more and more difficult to diagnose. With more than 12,000 malaria cases and eight deaths since January, malaria is the city’s deadliest infectious disease.
“The symptoms were very different from what I suffered last year. When I suffered from diarrhoea, I thought it was a stomach infection. I was surprised when I tested positive for malaria again,” said Dastar.
While high fever and chills are the most common symptoms for malaria, doctors have seen malaria patients with symptoms such as chest pain, diarrhoea, rashes, breathlessness and weakness over the past few years.
“Sometimes, the fever is so mild that it goes unnoticed. On the fifth day, the patient arrives at a hospital as an emergency case. In certain cases, malaria, strangely, has even led to a heart attack,” said Dr Pratit Samdani, physician, Jaslok Hospital.
Samdani said that the traditional smear tests, too, are not the final word on diagnoses. “There have been cases where patients test negative for malaria in the first two days of the illness but on the third day the same patient tests positive,” said Dr Jayesh Lele, a Malad-based physician and state secretary of the Indian Medical Association.
Advising not to rely on laboratory tests only, Dr Om Shrivastav from Hurkisondas Nurrotumdas Hospital said, “It is getting challenging to diagnose malaria because of the changing pattern of clinical presentation.”
Doctors add that the illness reaches critical level much sooner now.
“Earlier acute respiratory distress syndrome (a lung disease) was seen two weeks after fever sets in without treatment, now it seen within a week,” said Dr Monica Goel, consultant physician, Hinduja Hospital.