I’ll have some malaria. With chills on the side, thanks

I started having fever at the SAFE camp in Kalabakan.


The first thought was “malaria”, but the bouts of fever up to 40C were happening daily, in clear contrast with my knowledge of the topic (based mostly on the stories by Joseph Conrad, actually). I got tested for malaria, dengue, and leptospyrosis as soon as I could get to a clinic in Tawau, but all tests were negative. At that point I self-designed an antibiotic therapy, just in case the fever was due to a bacterial infection. By then I was back in Kota Kinabalu, days were passing, the fever was always there and I was getting weaker. The nights were the worst, when awful headaches would make any movement hard. A first doctor suggested not a bacterial but a viral infection, but it was lasting suspiciously long. A second doctor suggested a new test for malaria when the fever was high. I planned it for the following night. But when the fever and the headache hit I could barely stand up, let alone reach the hospital. For the first time in my life I had to call an ambulance, all apologetic because in my mind if there is no blood and one can stand up by himself it’s not a real emergency. Yet I was afraid that if I called a taxi I could have passed out on it. Anyways, I got hospitalized and the new tests were clear: Plasmodium knowesi, a strain of malaria usually hosted by macaque monkeys and unusual in humans. I got the “special” malaria, how lucky. Jokes aside, I was actually lucky: one week of untreated malaria had not given me any complications, and after two days of high-dosage antimalarics my blood was clean. In three days I was out of the hospital, a bit wobbly on my legs, a bit grey-coloured, but healthy. The whole mishap took about ten days to solve. A friend congratulated me saying that one is not a real ecologist until they get their first tropical disease, so I guess I should be glad that my degree has finally been validated.

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