Treatment of malaria (guidelines for clinicians)
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Treatment of malaria (guidelines for clinicians)

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    We encourage clinicians to report all cases of laboratory-confirmed malaria to help CDC's surveillance efforts. Refer to our information on the Malaria Case Surveillance Report Form (

    Because malaria cases are seen relatively rarely in North America, misdiagnosis by clinicians and laboratorians has been a commonly documented problem in published reports. However, malaria may be a common illness in areas where it is transmitted and therefore the diagnosis of malaria should routinely be considered for any febrile person who has traveled to an area with known malaria transmission in the past several months preceding symptom onset.

    Symptoms of malaria are generally non-specific and most commonly consist of fever, malaise, weakness, gastrointestinal complaints (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), neurologic complaints (dizziness, confusion, disorientation, coma), headache, back pain, myalgia, chills, and/or cough. The diagnosis of malaria should also be considered in any person with fever of unknown origin regardless of travel history.

    Patients suspected of having malaria infection should be urgently evaluated. Treatment for malaria should not be initiated until the diagnosis has been confirmed by laboratory investigations. "Presumptive treatment" without the benefit of laboratory confirmation should be reserved for extreme circumstances (strong clinical suspicion, severe disease, impossibility of obtaining prompt laboratory confirmation, usually by microscopy).

    Laboratory diagnosis of malaria can be made through microscopic examination of thick and thin blood smears. Thick blood smears are more sensitive in detecting malaria parasites because the blood is more concentrated allowing for a greater volume of blood to be examined; however, thick smears are more difficult to read. Thin smears aid in parasite species identification and quantification. Blood films need to be read immediately; off-hours, qualified personnel who can perform this function should be on-call. A negative blood smear makes the diagnosis of malaria unlikely. However, because non-immune individuals may be symptomatic at very low parasite densities that initially may be undetectable by blood smear, blood smears should be repeated every 12–24 hours for a total of 3 sets. If all 3 are negative, the diagnosis of malaria has been essentially ruled out.


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