Each year, approximately 1,500 people across the U.S. and between 60 and 70 in Florida are diagnosed with malaria. Typically, they have either travelled to or immigrated from a part of the world where malaria is endemic, such as sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
Because malaria can be life-threatening, early diagnosis and effective treatment are crucial. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis and delayed treatment are a leading cause of death from malaria in the U.S. If you or a family member has suffered because of the misdiagnosis of malaria, you should seek advice from an experienced Florida medical malpractice attorney.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Malaria
The symptoms of malaria are usually the same as those for the flu or other common viral infections: fever, chills, headaches, muscle pain, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Like the symptoms, the medical findings of high temperature, perspiration, and unusual tiredness are non-specific, making a quick, on-the-spot diagnosis very difficult.
This difficulty in diagnosing malaria can have very serious medical consequences, including a dangerously high fever, loss of consciousness, convulsions, and difficulties breathing. If the malaria is not treated, the parasite that causes the disease infects red blood cells, making them sticky so that the small blood vessels in major organs are blocked, causing severe damage, permanent disabilities, and death.
Since quick, accurate diagnosis and treatment are crucial in preventing severe symptoms and physical damage, healthcare providers should regularly ask patients who exhibit the common symptoms if they have traveled to a malaria-endemic area in the past several months. If so, the possibility of their having contracted malaria should be taken very seriously, and diagnostic testing should begin immediately.
Clinical diagnoses are initially made based on a patient’s symptoms and the findings of their physical examination. Since symptoms and findings are non-specific, they should always be backed up by laboratory tests. A blood smear can reveal the existence of the parasites that cause malaria. However, an accurate diagnosis still depends on the quality of the procedure and experience of the technician.
Other tests include Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) that commonly use a dipstick and provide results in a matter of minutes based on the existence of antigens from malaria parasites. While the use of a malaria RDT can significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to diagnose a malaria patient, the results can be inaccurate, so health organizations suggest they be confirmed by laboratory testing.
After a diagnosis has been made, other tests should also be conducted to determine the species of malaria parasite and to examine its susceptibility to antimalarial drugs.
Treatment should begin as soon as a malaria diagnosis has been confirmed. The type of treatment will depend largely on the type of malaria parasite causing the disease, the severity of the disease, and the part of the world where the patient became infected.
Knowing the species and geographical location of the parasite is important because some are more likely to cause severe illness than others; some can remain dormant and lead to a relapse; and different species are resistant to different medications. The severity of the disease must be taken into account because patients with life-threatening symptoms need to be treated much more aggressively than those with uncomplicated malaria.
Beginning an effective treatment quickly is very important to impede the spread of the parasite and the progressive severity of the symptoms. Experts suggest using any of the effective treatments available to get started and monitoring the patient’s condition and blood closely to make sure the parasite causing the infection is being eliminated.
Misdiagnosis of Malaria
If you have malaria and seek treatment in the U.S., the chances of your infection being misdiagnosed are quite high. U.S. hospitals, doctors, and laboratories rarely see malaria patients and, therefore, do not readily think of it as a possibility. As a result, they might not order the appropriate diagnostic tests, and lab technicians might not even recognize the signs of malaria when blood tests are conducted.
Still, early and accurate diagnosis of malaria is necessary for treating the disease effectively. A misdiagnosis can, in fact, have very serious consequences. If you aren’t diagnosed correctly, the disease could quickly become severe, affecting your vital organs and threatening your life. Conversely, if you’re treated for malaria but don’t really have the infection, then your real illness is not being treated and could definitely worsen.
Florida Malaria Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Worldwide, malaria is the most important disease spread by a parasite. While the number of cases reported each year in the U.S. is low (less than 2,000), the disease’s rarity here is a source of concern. Healthcare providers and lab technicians alike do not regularly see malaria patients or blood samples from malaria patients, so the infection can be misdiagnosed as something else. When treatment is postponed because of a misdiagnosis, you are at great risk of developing severe, life-threatening symptoms.
Doctors and other health care providers need to be held accountable for considering the possibility that patients with fevers and flu-like symptoms have contracted malaria and ask if they have traveled to malaria-endemic parts of the world within the past three months. They have to be held accountable for the damage done and suffering that occurs when treatment is postponed because someone with malaria has been misdiagnosed. Moreover, people who have suffered from misdiagnosis of malaria deserve just compensation for their pain and suffering.
If you or a family member has suffered from failure to diagnose or the misdiagnosis of malaria, you may have a medical malpractice case. Contact the experienced Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Paul & Perkins as soon as possible to discuss your case.
Centers for Disease Control. (2015). “Treatment of Malaria: Guidelines for Clinicians (United States).
Cochrane. (2011). “Rapid Diagnostic Tests for diagnosing Malaria.” http://www.cochrane.org/CD008122/INFECTN_rapid-diagnostic-tests-for-diagnosing-malaria
World Health Organization. (2015). “Information for Travellers.” http://www.who.int/malaria/travellers/en/
World Health Organization. (2016). “Malaria.” http://www.who.int/malaria/areas/diagnosis/en/