What it’s like to survive the deadliest malaria parasite

I told myself I was feeling cold because I had drunk lots of chilled water to combat my headache. Something was off, though, but I still didn’t tell my friends no when they asked if I join them for dinner. We drove about 20 minutes to an Indian restaurant, but because no alcohol was served, one of my friends didn’t want to deal with it and forced all of us to move to another Indian place a few minutes away (Ooooh-kay). Right before we entered, my headache became so overwhelming that tears started streaming down my face. “Don’t be weak,” my friend told me as in his culture crying in public is considered just that. Obviously, for me, that stupid comment didn’t help me nor make me feel any better but rather angry. I wiped away my tears and tried to walk in there with my head up high.

We sat down at the table and read through the menu. I fought so hard to hold back my tears that wanted to make their way out again and again and just wouldn’t stop. I grabbed napkins to dry my eyes. Finally, I went to the ladies’ room where I could let them all out. Uncontrollably, they shot down and like in a movie scene I leaned my back against the wall, held my hands over my face and just sobbed. Snot dripping down so that it reached my lips and all. It felt like I was having a panic attack because my subconscious remembered all the terrible things that were ingrained in it about malaria, mostly from American and European media.

malaria tanzania

Maybe one of these bites caused my malaria…

 

I had to remind myself that I knew many expats here in Tanzania who have had malaria, some of them for three months, but all survived. At this moment, however, I didn’t know yet if I even had malaria but all my senses were telling me that mine were the symptoms I had always read about, heard about and internalized in case I’d ever get this ish.

After my second time of running to the bathroom, my friend took me home. In the car, I tried to calm myself down and stop crying, so I was able to breathe through my nose again at least. I failed. Instead, I was shaking from cold in this tropical night that was at least 26C hot. My friend’s nephew, who spent the weekend in the same house had also just gotten malaria, and thus already bought pills, from which I was able to take a dose of three. I refused the pain killers because I am not a fan of putting chemical meds into my body. The malaria meds were chemics enough; they were a must, though.

My swollen eyes after crying and my “pretty” malaria face!

 

The next day, I went to the clinic, got my finger pricked and fifteen minutes later I officially had reached level 2 of Africa, as my friend put it; or as the results proved: I had tested positive for Plasmodium falciparum.

When my dad kept sending me messages on What’s App through which I could literally hear his gripping fear and worry, I researched more and found that there are five types of malaria that can infect humans. Side note: For whatever reason, I had thought malaria was a virus and even posted something in a Facebook group stating that without researching further. Yikes, what a mistake – how embarrassing! But thankfully, I was quickly corrected by some rude and some not so rude ladies. Anyway, Plasmodium falciparum, the most commonly found malaria parasite in the Sub-Saharan area happens to be the most malicious when it doesn’t get treated or you don’t recognize the symptoms or there are other issues. I now knew I had the deadliest malaria parasite roaming inside me. What a wonderful feeling…

That day, we had planned a trip out of town. Due to money concerns, I had not been anywhere but in the concrete jungle of Dar es Salaam, and so welcomed this opportunity to explore a ghost town and an organic chicken farm. Despite the skeptical looks of my travel companions, we left Dar in the late morning and drove over an hour north to Bagamoyo, where we spent most of our afternoon. I drank so much water to help clean my body that I had to use the restroom like every hour.

malaria tanzania firefly

Our table of deliciousness at Firefly in Bagamoyo.

 

After I had to hold back my vomit from the smells of smoke and fish while exploring a fish market by the sea, we continued our journey to the chicken farm. Because I felt so exhausted, I had to stay alone inside the car in the middle of nowhere surrounded by high grass imagining how I’d be surprised by a lion or elephant or giraffe (not really possible in this area, but I had to make myself even more uncomfortable, I guess). I am in Africa after all, eh!

bagamoyo

The fishing boats in Bagamoyo.

 

 

So when I returned home that day, all I wanted was sleep, but I was woken up for some late dinner which was much needed. I also took the second dose of my pills in combination with some pain killers. I had been able to live without them up to this point, but now, they became more than necessary.

The next day I spent in bed feeling sick and weak and taking the last dose of my medicine. The day after that I spent at the office again, but just watching series on my laptop. The day after that, I was cured. Just kidding. I got a cold. Really not kidding.

 

bagamoyo malaria tanzania

Cute kitty tried to make me feel better!

 

Have YOU ever had malaria? How was it and what helped you to treat it? Please share your story!

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24 comments

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  • Pretty scary but good thing you survived it. The cute must have said, don’t worry you’ll feel better…

  • Whoa! That’s a terrible experience. Malaria is dangerous but I’m glad you got healed.
    Terrible to get sick when travelling

  • Great post… happy to hear ur survival ?

  • Omg! So sorry to hear that. It must have been really tough and glad you are better now. Take care hun.

  • Great write-up. It was amazing how you’ve described what you were going through. Happy that you came out safe!

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thank you so much <3 🙂

  • Cliodhna Ryan

    Reply

    Such a fear of mine but glad you’re over the worst! I too, thought it was a virus. Not so sure why you were expected to know it wasn’t as I imagine most don’t! Can’t believe you still got so many nice photos when you had malaria. Go you! I’m impressed! ?

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Hahahahah, thanks girl 😀 On my only trip out of Dar so far, I just had to! Gotta do what a travel blogger’s gotta do, eh? You got nice ones as well 😀

  • Damn, I´m always afraid of getting anything when I´m in such a country. I´m happy that you feel better now. Thanks for sharing your experience. It´s so good to read or see anything which reminds me of being aware of any kinds of risk. Stay safe and healthy on your upcoming journey!

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thank you, Pia 🙂 ! It’s also always a good reminder that our health is the most important thing ever !!!

  • May I ask, why didn’t you take the preventive medication when you where there? Was the trip too long that it was not advised? As I have heard many, many stories of people getting sick (and often, misdiagnosed even if it is not malaria, which is not true in your case, since you got tested), so that was the first thing I made sure when I went to India. The pills were expensive but since I got bitten from time to time even with the strongest repellents (one can test the length of working time on me, as I get bitten a lot as soon as it wears off), I could not worry about it. Not know much about the disease, but someone once told me you cannot cure it 100%, as it alters the blood cells, is that true?
    Anyway, I am glad you are ok! One of the stories with a happy ending that you can tell your grandkids some day 🙂

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Hi Alina,
      I was advised by several people NOT to take it.
      1. because I’m staying here for a longer time and taking the preventatives would be extremely bad – if not just as bad as malaria – for my body. And for the months in a row that I’m staying, I cannot take preventatives all the time!
      2. because all the expats I know have survived it and didn’t get it often.
      I’m no doctor, so I don’t really know as to how far it alters the red blood cells and if it’s altering these cells in every single person… What I do know is that malaria is always changing and thus it’s hard to make these general statements…
      Thanks a lot for your comment and questions 🙂

  • Ugh- it’s terrible you went through that. Awesome you pulled through ok. Unlike malaria, I got a mosquito *virus* the doctor said was Chikungunya. I hate mosquitoes.

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Me too! I don’t know WHY THE F they exist!

  • Whoa – this kinda scares me when venturing out into a jungle/forest on the other side of the world. And I’m a microbiologist lab scientist by day. It’s cool stuff to see this case in the lab, but as you know, it’s something that you wish nobody gets! Glad you got treated and made a full recovery!

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thanks, Jin! Haha, yeah, I’m sure malaria looks more interesting when you’re far away from it 😀 Still shouldn’t keep no one from venturing to countries… Just comes with the territory… 🙂

  • I had malaria 4 times the first year I was in Malawi with the Peace Corps. I’m amazed you even considered going anywhere that second day! I had trouble walking to the bathroom. What you wrote is true: be aware of the symptoms, take the meds as soon as you notice the symptoms, and you’ll be fine. Once you’ve had it once, there’s no need to get the pinprick test. Malaria feels unlike anything else, so you’ll know.
    A bit of advice: in my second year there, I didn’t get malaria even once because I started being more careful not to get bitten by mosquitoes in the first place. When I got home from work, I closed all windows and doors, well before sunset. I put on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and applied bug repellant around my wrists and ankles and on my neck and face. I lit an electrical mosquito coil an hour or so before bed, and I slept under a mosquito net.

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Holy crap! That’s a lot of times! Glad you survived too!
      I’ve been covering up and using repellent as well, but now I do it even more!
      Also sprayed the house and got nets in front of the windows. Since then it’s been much better 🙂 !

      Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  • Wow, this is pretty intense! How terrifying to go through something like that! I am impressed you managed to carry on sightseeing a little – I definitely would have spent the entire time in bed feeling sorry for myself. I bet you are glad you recognised your symptoms quickly and got the necessary medication. That’s a lesson to all travellers right there… don’t ignore illness!

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Exactly! Don’t ignore and put your health FIRST!

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thank you! Lucky, I hope it stays that way 🙂 Wouldn’t wish it on anyone!

  • So glad to hear you survived it. Such an amazing article to read and get tips from on trying everything to avoid this from happening.

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