Severe pulmonary involvement in malaria has been frequently reported in cases of Plasmodium falciparum infection, but rarely in vivax malaria. Among the 11 previous cases of vivax-related severe respiratory involvement described in the literature, all except one developed it after the beginning of anti-malarial treatment; these appear to correspond to an exacerbation of the inflammatory response. We report the case of a 43-year-old Brazilian woman living in a malaria-endemic area, who presented acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) caused by P. vivax before starting anti-malarial treatment. The diagnosis was made based on microscopic methods. A negative rapid immunochromatographic assay, based on the detection of Histidine Rich Protein-2 (HRP-2) of P. falciparum, indicated that falciparum malaria was unlikely. After specific anti-plasmodial therapy and intensive supportive care, the patient was discharged from the hospital. We conclude that vivax malaria-associated ARDS can develop before anti-malarial therapy.