Malaria (cont.)

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What is the treatment for malaria?

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Three main factors determine treatments: the infecting species of Plasmodium parasite, the clinical situation of the patient (for example, adult, child, or pregnant female with either mild or severe malaria), and the drug susceptibility of the infecting parasites. Drug susceptibility is determined by the geographic area where the infection was acquired. Different areas of the world have malaria types that are resistant to certain medications. The correct drugs for each type of malaria must be prescribed by a doctor who is familiar with malaria treatment protocols. Since people infected with P. falciparum malaria can die (often because of delayed treatment), immediate treatment for P. falciparum malaria is necessary.

Mild malaria can be treated with oral medication; severe malaria (one or more symptoms of either impaired consciousness/coma, severe anemia, renal failure, pulmonary edema, acute respiratory distress syndrome, shock, disseminated intravascular coagulation, spontaneous bleeding, acidosis, hemoglobinuria [hemoglobin in the urine], jaundice, repeated generalized convulsions, and/or parasitemia [parasites in the blood] of > 5%) requires intravenous (IV) drug treatment and fluids in the hospital.

Drug treatment of malaria is not always easy. Chloroquine phosphate (Aralen) is the drug of choice for all malarial parasites except for chloroquine-resistant Plasmodium strains. Although almost all strains of P. malariae are susceptible to chloroquine, P. falciparum, P. vivax, and even some P. ovale strains have been reported as resistant to chloroquine. Unfortunately, resistance is usually noted by drug-treatment failure in the individual patient. There are, however, multiple drug-treatment protocols for treatment of drug-resistant Plasmodium strains (for example, quinine sulfate plus doxycycline [Vibramycin, Oracea, Adoxa, Atridox] or tetracycline [Achromycin], or clindamycin [Cleocin], or atovaquone-proguanil [Malarone]). There are specialized labs that can test the patient's parasites for resistance, but this is not done frequently. Consequently, treatment is usually based on the majority of Plasmodium species diagnosed and its general drug-resistance pattern for the country or world region where the patient became infested. For example, P. falciparum acquired in the Middle East countries is usually susceptible to chloroquine, but if it's acquired in sub-Sahara African countries, it's usually resistant to chloroquine. The treatment policy, recently established in 2006 by the World Health Organization, is to treat all cases of uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria with artemisinin-derived combination therapy (ACTs). ACTs are drug combinations (for example, artesunate-amodiaquine, artesunate-mefloquine, artesunate-pyronaridine, dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine, and chlorproguanil-dapsoneartesunate) used to treat drug-resistant P. falciparum. Unfortunately, as of 2009, a number of P. falciparum-infected individuals have parasites resistant to ACT drugs.

New drug treatments of malaria are currently under study because Plasmodium species continue to produce resistant strains that frequently spread to other areas. One promising drug class under investigation is the spiroindolones, which have been effective in stopping P. falciparum experimental infections.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/11/2013

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