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Severe anaemia in Zambian children with Plasmodium falciparum malaria

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Abstract:

Summary

Background   Severe anaemia and cerebral malaria are highly prevalent complications of Plasmodium falciparum malaria among African children. The mechanisms of severe malarial anaemia, and the relative importance of this condition in comparison to cerebral malaria, are not known for many regions of Africa.

Methods   We reviewed the records of 6200 children up to 6 years of age admitted to one rural Zambian hospital between 1994 and 1996. Severe malarial anaemia was defined as an haemoglobin concentration < 5.0 g/dl in a patient with asexual forms of P. falciparum in the peripheral blood. Cerebral malaria was defined as impaired consciousness (Blantyre coma score < 5) not attributable to any other cause in a patient with a positive malaria smear.

Results   Severe malarial anaemia was found in 590 children (9.5% of paediatric admissions) and strictly defined cerebral malaria occurred in 286 children (4.6% of paediatric admissions); 98 of these patients had the combination of both complications. Severe malarial anaemia correlated strongly with the degree of parasitaemia, with malnutrition as indicated by low weight for age, with absence of fever and with presentation late in the malaria season. In comparison, patients with cerebral malaria were more often febrile and presented earlier in the malaria season. The case fatality rate of severe malarial anaemia (0.088) was about half that of cerebral malaria (0.189), but because severe malarial anaemia was more common, these two forms of complicated malaria were implicated in similar numbers of in-hospital paediatric deaths.

Conclusion   Severe anaemia is a more common complication of P. falciparum malaria in hospitalized Zambian children than cerebral malaria and is associated with a similar number of deaths. Malnutrition and changes in immune response patterns due to prolonged exposure to P. falciparum may contribute to the development of this complication.

Keywords: Plasmodium falciparum; Zambia; anaemia; cerebral malaria; malaria

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-3156.2000.00506.x

Affiliations: 1: Macha Mission Hospital, Choma, Zambia 2: Department of Medicine, Universiteit Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands 3: Department of Medicine, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria 4: Department of Medicine, The George Washington University Medical Center, Washington DC, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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