Errors in the diagnosis of imported malaria are increasingly recognized. However, there are few data on the treatment of malaria in the United States.
Medical records were reviewed for 83 patients with microscopically confirmed malaria at Cook County Hospital, Chicago, Ill, between 1991 and 1999.
Errors in drug treatment occurred in 25% of patients in this study. The most common error in therapy was the failure to prescribe primaquine to eradicate the liver forms of Plasmodium vivax. Another 5 patients with P vivax received an inappropriate drug regimen. Errors in Plasmodium falciparum therapy occurred in 5 patients. All patients received an inappropriate drug regimen. While the clinical symptoms and signs do not help distinguish the infecting Plasmodium species, the travel history is extremely helpful in guiding drug selection. Non–infectious diseases specialists are more likely to make errors in therapy than are infectious diseases specialists.
Despite widely published guidelines on the treatment of malaria, there are frequent errors in the therapy for malaria. A detailed travel history emphasizing the duration and country of travel should be sought. Primaquine should be included in the primary prescription for the treatment of P vivax infection. Improvements in the therapy for malaria can be made with the aid of an infectious diseases specialist and/or a tropical medicine specialist.