Travel Medicine / Vaccination / Immunization Expert Forum
Malaria...
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Questions in the Travel Medicine forum are answered by Dr. Philip D Parks, affiliated with Harvard School of Public Health. Topics covered include disease prevention, finding a doctor abroad, food and water safety, illness and injury abroad, mosquito and tick protection, resources for travelers, traveling with children or pets, traveling with special needs, vaccinations and immunizations.

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Malaria...

In February 2008 I was in Tanzania/Kenya for 3 1/2 weeks and I got Malaria.  I took some pills from the clinic that seemed to take care of the problem.  For the past few months I have been exceptionally tired and have had headaches for no particular reason so I went to the doctor and had some blood work done.  It turns out that I have an overactive thyroid.   Today my uncle who lives in Africa said his brother had the same symptoms after getting and treating his malaria when he was abroad and went to many doctors before one confirmed that the malaria parasite was still present in his system.  He really wants me to see a qualified Dr. to run a malaria scan to rule it out.  My questions are, is this possible and can malaria affect your thyroid levels?  Could there be a connection?
Tags: malaria
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Hello,

It is very possible that you were incompletely treated for malaria; that is if you truly had malaria when you were in Tanzania and Kenya.

How were you diagnosed with malaria? Did the health care providers perform a blood smear or were you treated presumptively (with anti-malarials without diagnostic testing. How long did you take the medications that were given to you in Africa. Do you know what the name of the medication was?

If you were to be tested (again) for malaria, it is important that you have a blood smear during a febrile (when you have a fever) episode in order for the malaria parasite to be seen in the blood. This is assuming that you are having fevers now.

There are four types of malaria and two (p. ovale, p. vivax) of the four types of malaria have the ability to lay dormant in the liver for months after infection. In order to have definitive therapy, a second medication must be given to eliminate the dormant form of the parasite.

Regarding your question whether malaria infection can affect thyroid hormone levels, there is are a few case reports and articles in the medical/scientific literature that provide some insight in to answering your question. It is difficult to say with certainty whether your thyroid abnormality is causality related to the (possible) malaria infection.

In the immediate period after malaria infection, it has been shown that the thyroid gland activity can be elevated. There is a possibility that there is a connection; however, there are many possible causes for an overactive thyroid gland.

There are other blood tests in addition to the actual malaria test that may help with understand whether you have malaria that is dormant. For example, liver enzymes (AST, ALT, GGT, ALT), complete blood count (showing a mild anemia [lower than normal level of red blood cells], and eosinophil count (type of white blood cell that may become elevated with parasitic infection).

I hope that this is helpful to you. You are welcome to respond with additional questions.

~•~ Dr. Parks

This answer is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. The information presented in this posting is for patients’ education only. As always, I encourage you to see your personal physician for further evaluation of your individual case.
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