Letters to the Editor

Increase in Reported Malaria Cases Prompts Clarification Regarding Diagnosis and Treatment

 


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Am Fam Physician. 2014 Oct 15;90(8):523-524.

Original article:: Fever in Returning Travelers: A Case-Based Approach

Issue date: October 15, 2013

See additional reader comments at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2013/1015/p524.html

to the editor: We read this article with great interest, and we appreciate the authors highlighting three major sources of fever in the returning traveler. Given the continued steady increase in reported cases of malaria, especially from travelers to sub-Saharan Africa,1 we would like to make a few points regarding recognition and treatment of this disease.

First, diagnostic studies should be promptly performed, with a low threshold for starting parenteral treatment when there is concern for severe infection. Intensive treatment should not be delayed while awaiting test results.2 Although rapid testing can be performed, it should not replace direct microscopy, because testing for confirmation of infection and parasite density are needed to follow response to treatment.2 For help with diagnosis or management, clinicians may call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Malaria Hotline at 770-488-7788 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time) or 770-488-7100 (emergency consultation after hours).

Second, patients with severe infection who may have been exposed to Plasmodium falciparum should be given artesunate or quinidine, not chloroquine (Aralen), because patients with P. falciparum malaria infection may deteriorate rapidly if improperly treated.2,3 Worldwide, P. falciparum resistance to chloroquine is quite high outside of Latin America and the Middle East, which makes it a poor first choice, especially if there was recent travel to Africa.4 The CDC's online malaria map provides resistance characteristics for the area of travel (http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/map/).

For less severe infections in recent travelers to Africa or areas where the level of chloroquine resistance is unknown, clinicians should treat with atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone) or artemether/lumefantrine (Coartem) instead of the more cumbersome combination of quinine with doxycycline, tetracycline, or clindamycin.4 Mefloquine should be used only as a last resort because of neuropsychiatric reactions. A table of treatment recommendations from the CDC is available at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/resources/pdf/treatmenttable.pdf.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.

The opinions and assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors and are not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the U.S. Air Force Medical Department or the U.S. Air Force at large.

REFERENCES

show all references

1. Cullen KA, Arquin PM; Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, Center for Global Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Malaria surveillance—United States, 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62(5):1–17....

2. Gilles HM; World Health Organization. Management of Severe Malaria: A Practical Handbook. 3rd ed. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2012.

3. Wilson ME, Fever in returned travelers. In: Brunette GW, ed. CDC Health Information for International Travel. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2014. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-5-post-travel-evaluation/fever-in-returned-travelers. Accessed April 10, 2014.

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidelines for treatment of malaria in the United States. July 1, 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/resources/pdf/treatmenttable.pdf. Accessed April 10, 2014.

in reply: I thank Drs. Gibbs and Creech for their interest in our article. First, I agree that malaria smears may need to be performed right away. At our hospital, results are usually available in less than one hour. If results are delayed and the possibility of severe P. falciparum infection is high, then empiric therapy should be started. Second, as stated in the article, many areas in the world have chloroquine-resistant malaria; thus, knowing the area of exposure is needed to choose effective malaria therapy. Lastly, the fixed-dose combination artemether/lumefantrine is an additional first-line option to treat chloroquine-resistant malaria.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.

Send letters to Kenneth W. Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online, e-mail: afplet@aafp.org, or 11400 Tomahawk Creek Pkwy., Leawood, KS 66211-2680.

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