Prevalence and spectrum of illness among hospitalized adults with malaria in Blantyre, Malawi

Dalitso Segula, Anne P. Frosch, Miguel Sanjoaquin, Dalitso Taulo, Jacek Skarbinski, Don P. Mathanga, Theresa J. Allain, Malcolm Molyneux, Miriam K. Laufer, Robert S. Heyderman

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Background: As control interventions are rolled out, the burden of malaria may shift from young children to older children and adults as acquisition of immunity is slowed and persistence of immunity is short-lived. Data for malaria disease in adults are difficult to obtain because of co-morbid conditions and because parasitaemia may be asymptomatic. Regular surveys of adult admissions to a hospital in Malawi were conducted to characterize the clinical spectrum of malaria and to establish a baseline to monitor changes that occur in future.

Methods. In 2011-2012, at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Blantyre, four separated one-week surveys in the peak malaria transmission period (wet season) and three one-week surveys in the low transmission period (dry season) were conducted using rapid diagnostic tests (RDT) with confirmation of parasitaemia by microscopy. All adults (aged ≥15) being admitted to the adult medical wards regardless of the suspected diagnosis, were enrolled. Participants with a positive malaria test underwent a standardized physical examination and laboratory tests. Malaria syndromes were characterized by reviewing charts and laboratory results on discharge.

Results: 765 adult admissions were screened. 63 (8.2%) were RDT-positive with 61 (8.0%) positive by microscopy. Over the course of the seven study weeks, two patients were judged to have incidental parasitaemia, 31 (4.1%) had uncomplicated malaria and 28 (3.7%) had severe malaria. Both uncomplicated and severe malaria cases were more common in the rainy season than the dry season. Prostration (22/28 cases) and hyperparasitaemia (>250,000 parasites/μl) (9/28) were the most common features of severe malaria. Jaundice (4/28), severe anaemia (2/28), hyperlactataemia (2/28), shock (1/28) and haemoglobinuria (1/28) were less commonly seen, and no patient had severe metabolic derangement or organ failure. There were no deaths attributable to malaria.

Conclusion: In this study of adults admitted to hospital in southern Malawi, an area with year-round transmission of Plasmodium falciparum, classical metabolic and organ complications of malaria were not encountered. Prostration and hyperparasitaemia were more common indicators of severity in patients admitted with malaria, none of whom died. These data will provide a baseline for monitoring trends in the frequency and clinical patterns of severe malaria in adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number391
JournalMalaria Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Segula et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.


  • Adult
  • Hyperparasitaemia
  • Malaria
  • Malaria epidemiology
  • Malawi
  • Prostration
  • Rapid diagnostic tests
  • Severe malaria


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