National Dengue Day: Is it Malaria or Dengue? Here's the difference between the mosquito-borne diseases

ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi
May 16, 2023 12:16 PM IST

Though with common seasonal trend and high-grade fever as common signs, Malaria and Dengue both differ in other symptoms. Here's how to know the difference

Malaria and dengue are both mosquito-borne diseases that can cause significant health problems and are important global concerns whose prevention efforts, including mosquito control and personal protection, are essential to reduce their transmission and impact on affected populations. Malaria is prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Central and South America and is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes while Dengue is prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide, particularly in urban areas with dense mosquito populations i.e. it is common in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America where it is caused by the dengue virus, which is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected Aedes mosquitoes, primarily Aedes aegypti.

Is it Malaria or Dengue? Here's how to know the difference between the two mosquito-borne diseases (Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah on Pexels)
Is it Malaria or Dengue? Here's how to know the difference between the two mosquito-borne diseases (Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah on Pexels)

Seeking medical attention promptly is important for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Neha Rastogi Panda, Consultant Infectious Diseases at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, explained, “Malaria and Dengue are two commonly reported and widespread vector borne illness being reported especially during peak seasons. While Malaria is caused by parasite plasmodium species and Dengue fever by dengue virus both are common in mode of spread through vector - mosquito borne former by anopheles and later by aedes, respectively. Though with common seasonal trend and high-grade fever as common and index presentation they both differ in other symptoms. While Malaria causes high grade fever with chills with evening rise in temperature along with weakness, sugar fluctuations. On the other hand, Dengue causes fever with more joint, muscle pain and headache.”

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She elaborated, “Malaria, if complicated, can lead to variable organ involvement and causes jaundice, dark urine, liver injury and even coma in frequent case scenario. Dengue in its complicated form can causes bleeding diathesis and presents as low platelets and bleeding manifestation. Diagnosis of both is done by blood test. While Malaria diagnosis relies on direct demonstration of parasite and antigen, dengue diagnosis mandates antigen/antibody testing. Management of both also differ considerably. Malaria needs early diagnosis and targeted therapy in form of antimalarials for specified duration to treat and to prevent recurrence. In dengue management is majorly supportive and conservative aiming for hydration and weakness. Though prevention of both needs mosquito control measures, vaccination is also potential tool to prevent severity and infection in both.”

Echoing that Dengue is a viral illness transmitted by the bite of Aedes Aegypti mosquito whereas malaria is caused by a single celled organism called Plasmodium which is transmitted by the bite of Anopheles mosquito, Dr Tushar Tayal, Consultant - Internal Medicine at CK Birla Hospital in Gurugram, revealed that the symptoms of malaria start 10-15 days after the mosquito bite. He listed the most common symptoms as:

a) Fever preceded by chills and profuse shivering occurring in a cyclical manner

B) Headache body ache and joint pain

C) Jaundice and Low Hemoglobin

D) Low blood sugar and blood in urine

E) Seizures and coma ( especially in falciparum malaria)

Dr Tushar Tayal highlighted, “Untreated malaria can be life threatening and can cause respiratory and kidney failure, convulsions, spontaneous bleeding and even death. Whereas the symptoms of dengue generally start 1 week after the mosquito bite. The initial symptoms of dengue are high grade fever, headache , pain behind the eyes, nausea and joint pain which last for approximately five days. By the end of this period is when the critical period starts where the BP falls, fluid accumulates in lungs and abdomen and rash develops and the platelets fall. Some patients may also show bleeding manifestation. It is extremely important to identify these symptoms and hospitalize the patient urgently as these symptoms may be life threatening.”

He pointed out, “This period is followed by the recovery phase which lasts 3-4 days. There are specific ANTI-MALARIAL medicines available for treating malaria whereas there are no specific medicines for dengue and the treatment is primarily symptomatic.” Dr Tushar Tayal emphasised that the preventive measures are common for both the illnesses which are as follows-

1) Preventing accumulation of still water in houses and surroundings

2) Spraying Larvicidal insecticides and pesticides in stagnant water

3) Use of mosquito nets, aerosolised insecticides in rooms while sleeping

4) Use of DEET or Picaridin based insect repellants which can be applied to the skin and clothes.

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