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J R Soc Med. 1989; 82(Suppl 17): 44–51.
PMCID: PMC1291940

Treatment of severe malaria.


In the treatment of severe Plasmodium falciparum infection antimalarial drugs should, ideally, be given by controlled rate intravenous infusion until the patient is able to swallow tablets. In cases where infection has been acquired in a chloroquine resistant area, and where it has broken through chloroquine prophylaxis or where the geographical origin or species are uncertain, quinine is the treatment of choice. When access to parenteral quinine is likely to be delayed, parenteral quinidine is an effective alternative. A loading dose of quinine is recommended in order to achieve therapeutic plasma concentrations as quickly as possible. In the case of chloroquine sensitive P. falciparum infection, chloroquine, which can be given safely by slow intravenous infusion, may be more rapidly effective and has fewer toxic effects than quinine. There is limited experience with parenteral administration of pyrimethamine sulphonamide combinations such as Fansidar, and resistance to these drugs has developed in South East Asia and elsewhere. Mefloquine and halofantrine cannot be given parenterally. Qinghaosu derivatives are not readily available and have not been adequately tested outside China. Supportive treatment includes the prevention or early detection and treatment of complications, strict attention to fluid balance, provision of adequate nursing for unconscious patients and avoidance of harmful ancillary treatments. Anaemia is inevitable and out of proportion to detectable parasitaemia. Hypotension and shock ('algid malaria') are often attributable to secondary gram-negative septicaemia requiring appropriate antimicrobial therapy and haemodynamic resuscitation. Many patients with severe falciparum malaria are hypovolaemic on admission to hospital and require cautious fluid replacement. Failure to rehydrate these patients may lead to circulatory collapse, lactic acidosis, renal failure and severe hyponatraemia.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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