Ten reasons I thought I had malaria symptoms (but I didn’t)

Sometimes, fear of the worst gets the best of you. That’s what happened to me last week when, having recently traveled to Zambia, I thought I had malaria symptoms. Am I crazy? No. Am I usually a hypochondriac? Not at all — but that’s partially due to the fact that I almost never get sick. As a matter of fact, that’s the issue behind #3.

Ten reasons I thought I had malaria symptoms (but I didn’t)

1. I had been in Zambia.

Pre traveling to Zambia, I went to the doctor to get shots for Hepatitis A and Typhoid (that one hurts like a jerkstore), as well as prescriptions for Cipro and Malarone — a malaria prevention medication. Every travel document I received warned me and rewarned me that I was visiting a “malaria zone,” and I definitely came home with a fair few mosquito bites.

2. I missed a pill. Maybe more.

You have to start taking Malarone a couple days in advance of travel, then take one at the same time every day until seven days after you get back. The pill, like most pills, is not 100 percent effective even if you get it right, but I didn’t get it right. One night, I forgot to take my pill until after dinner (I’d been taking it at 6 and took it at 10), and after I got back, I completely forgot to take one on a Saturday. I read my instructions and they said to just skip it and take the next one at my normal time.

And what? And pray?

3. I got a cold.

Most people wouldn’t think twice about getting a cold, but I am one of those lucky folks who almost never (knock on wood) gets sick. When I developed a fuzzy head and a cough about ten days after getting back, I couldn’t help but think, just in the back of my mind: “Do I have malaria?”

4. I Googled.

As anyone with a computer would, I googled the symptoms for malaria. Our friends at WebMD (I know) informed me that the incubation period could be anywhere from nine days to ten months. Great. Symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Headache.
  • Sweats.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dry (nonproductive) cough.
  • Muscle and/or back pain.
  • Enlarged spleen.

I wasn’t vomiting, didn’t know where my spleen was and hadn’t taken my temperature, but the rest was definitely going on. An even less heartening statement followed: “Symptoms may appear in cycles and may come and go at different intensities and for different lengths of time. But, especially at the beginning of the illness, the symptoms may not follow this typical pattern.”


5. I slept a ton.

I’m a good sleeper and all, but even after my cold symptoms started to diminish, I was suddenly sleeping like 10 hours per night, and feeling sleepy during the day. Does this happen to everyone now and then? Yes. But it was happening to me, Potential Malaria Victim Annie.

7. I felt “different.”

Perhaps it was psychosomatic, but I couldn’t help feeling that something was wrong. I was probably just still getting over the cold (and coping with the side effects of Nyquil), but I didn’t feel “normal.” I was sleepy, as I mentioned, and woozy and had no energy. This continued until a week after the cold hit. I wasn’t even getting as much work done as I should have been. At this point, I wasn’t sure I had malaria symptoms, but I was keeping an eye on it.

6. I had sudden, outrageous bathroom hell.

I’d been feeling nauseous all day. It had been my husband’s birthday the night before, so I attributed it to being out late, but suddenly, at 3:30 PM on a Tuesday afternoon, I was in the bathroom vomiting. It happened once, then again, and I still wasn’t feeling better. I sent an email cancelling my plans for the night, then was back in the bathroom. By an hour later, I had called my husband at work, sobbing and begging him to come home for fear I was going to pass out and choke on my own vomit. I was really sick. And, as the vomiting had finally come, I was pretty sure I had malaria.

8. I couldn’t move.

Unlike with the flu, during which you get a few minutes of glorious “I feel okay” time after you throw up, I was completely incapacitated. I spent twenty minutes just sitting on the bathroom floor with my cat looking at me pensively. When I finally made it into bed, the phone rang and I couldn’t look to see who it was, because even turning on my side made me dizzy and out of breath. I was obviously suffering from a violent strain of malaria, and probably near death. I lay paralyzed, worrying about my spleen.

9. I had a fever.

My husband came home terrified and immediately gauged that I had a fever (and kindly brought me Cheerios and a bucket). That was it. The final nail in my coffin. Even if I got better, I would have this strain of malaria for the rest of my life, however short that might be.

10. I’m an idiot.

My husband said “I’ve never seen you this sick!” … and that triggered me to think of the last time I’d been so sick. I couldn’t think of any instance, any precedent at all until … oh wait … that time I got food poisoning in London and threw up the second I got to Glasgow for about 18 hours straight. As I ate Cheerios one by one, about an hour later, my fever was gone. Shortly after that, I was eating Cheerios by handfuls.

At last, a far less dizzy me ventured into the restroom and had bathroom hell … the other way. I stepped out concerned that though I felt a little better, I was clearly still sick. My husband smiled and said “Honey, I think you’re in the final stages of food poisoning.”



So, after a harrowing food poisoning experience and a completely harmless cold, about two days later, I felt completely fine — and I have felt fine ever since. I write this not just to overshare, but to confess, and to assure you that if you’ve ever convinced yourself you have a possibly fatal disease after traveling, you’re not crazy.

Or, you know, we’re both crazy.

[Photo by James Jordan via Flickr.]