Sunday, November 28, 2010

Malaria Kidogo

On our way to the doctor, carrying a very sick little Caleb who had a scarily high fever and was heartbreakingly and uncharacteristically listless in my arms, we met a Kenyan friend.  We explained that we were on our way to the doctor to see what was going on with Caleb.  The response: “Oh, pole.  Probably malaria kidogo?”  (Sorry, probably a little malaria?)
The concept of “a little malaria” is just plain bizarre to folks in the US who tend to know the disease only by its exoticism and very real lethality.  In the US, you likely don’t know a soul who’s been sick with malaria, you’ll protect yourselves with prophylaxis when you travel to a malarial zone and you hear repeatedly about the millions of children who die from this disease every year.  What’s kidogo about that??
What you don’t hear is that with timely and proper treatment it’s basically like a bad flu that resolves itself remarkably quickly.  Almost everyone here has gotten malaria several times and some don’t bother to call out sick from work when they have it.  I don’t want to minimize how lethal it can be for those with weak immunity and no access to treatment, but the same holds true for the flu.  (Of course there are rarer forms of malaria, like cerebral malaria, that are a hell of a lot more serious than the flu.)
Luckily, Caleb has parents with means and a UN doctor a stone’s throw from his house.  He received an injection of drugs that morning and was transformed back into a giggling toddler by the afternoon.  It’s still no fun of course to watch your baby in pain, and we’ll do everything we can to avoid his getting malaria in the future.  Even malaria kidogo. 


  1. What was the injection? How do you find a UN doctor?
    When Ian had it we had to wait an extra day bc it was Boxing Day when we discovered his illness.
    So many of my in-laws said it was 'because of the climate change.' (um, no)
    Since we couldn't immediately get to the doctor I feared having to bury my child in Kenya and return to the states without him. Dramatic, I know. But, all we hear about malaria is that kids DIE. Even with the rational part of my brain telling me that my husband has had it a million times and is obviously alive.
    After that I wanted to kill every mosquito to ever exist.
    Ian was given a Rx of a three day treatment of an oral (liquid) medicine.
    Now that we are 'home' I will be taking him to an infectious disease Dr at a children's hospital. My husband thinks I'm insane. But I worry that it could still be alive in his liver and every flu he gets from now on I will worry that it is malaria and no Dr here in the US will take us seriously until it's too late bc they never see malaria.
    I'm glad your son kicked it. In Kericho we didn't sleep under a net and didn't get bit. I asked my husband if we could live there.

    1. The injection was quinine I believe and then he also had a dose of ACTs, which work fast and beautifully. The UN doctor is a complete coincidence. I think he was originally from the area and, relatively later in his career, wanted to be by family and set up a clinic in Busia. We were very lucky. Malaria is so misdiagnosed and misunderstood in a lot of areas.

      You may as well err on the side of caution with your owwn children though. I'm curious to see what the infectious disease doc says! My son has had it twice and all I've heard is that it gives him greater immunity from getting it again. I think the liver damage and other things might come from getting it chronically and not treating it right away. But I'd love to hear what you find out!

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