Retrospective study of imported falciparum malaria in French paediatric intensive care units

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The World Health Organization (WHO) severity criteria for paediatric Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) malaria are based on studies in countries of endemic malaria. The relevance of these criteria for other countries remains unclear. We assessed the relevance of these criteria in an industrialised country.


Retrospective case-control study.


Eight French university hospitals, from 2006 to 2012.


Children with Pf malaria admitted to paediatric intensive care units (cases: n=55) or paediatric emergency departments (controls: n=110).

Main outcome measures

Descriptive analysis of WHO severity criteria and major interventions (mechanical ventilation, blood transfusion, fluid challenge, treatment of cerebral oedema, renal replacement therapy). Thresholds were set by receiver operating characteristics curve analysis.


Altered consciousness (71% vs 5%), shock (24% vs 1%), renal failure (20% vs 1%), anaemia <50 g/L (7% vs 2%), acidosis (38% vs 0%), bilirubin level >50 µmol/L (25% vs 8%) and parasitaemia >10% (30% vs 8%) were more frequent in cases (p<0.01). All these criteria were associated with major interventions (p<0.001). Respiratory distress (six cases), and hypoglycaemia (two cases) were infrequent. Thrombocytopenia <50 000/mm3 (46% vs 7%) and anaemia (haemoglobin concentration <70 g/L (41% vs 13%)) were more frequent in cases (p<0.0001).


The WHO severity criteria for paediatric Pf malaria are relevant for countries without endemic malaria. The infrequent but severe complications also provide a timely reminder of the morbidity and mortality associated with this condition worldwide. In non-endemic countries haemoglobin <70 g/L and platelet count <50 000/mm3 could be used as additional criteria to identify children needing high level of care.

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