Neuropsychiatric Sequelae of Cerebral Malaria in Vietnam Veterans

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Approximately 250,000 Vietnam veterans suffered cerebral malaria, an illness that often results in damage to subcortical white matter and fronto-temporal areas of neocortex. Case reports dating back 2500 years indicate that survivors of cerebral malaria show depression, poor memory, personality change, and irritability/violence. The purpose of the present study was to compare the neuropsychiatric status of Vietnam veterans who had suffered cerebral malaria in the remote past (i.e., 1966 to 1969) with that of Vietnam veterans wounded in combat who had not suffered malaria or other neurological conditions. Findings indicate that cerebral malaria results in multiple, major, substantially underappreciated neuropsychiatric symptoms in Vietnam veterans, including poor dichotic listening,“personality change,” depression, and, in some cases, partial seizure-like symptoms. Findings strongly suggest that history of malaria should be considered in any medical, psychological, or psychiatric workup of a Vietnam War veteran because a positive response could result in substantial changes in diagnosis and treatment.

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