Prolongation of the QTc Interval in African Children Treated for Falciparum Malaria

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  • Medical Research Council Laboratories, Department of Epidemiology and Population Sciences, and Department of Medical Parasitology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Fajara, Banjul, The Gambia

Antimalarial drugs can affect the heart and trigger life-threatening arrhythmias. However, little is known about the frequency with which cardiac abnormalities occur during uncomplicated attacks of malaria. Therefore, we have studied the electrocardiograms of 139 Gambian children with uncomplicated falciparum malaria who were treated with co-artemether, pyrimethamine/sulfadoxine, or chloroquine. The QTc intervals were measured on presentation, and four and eight days after treatment. No significant differences in mean QTc or heart rate were found between children in the three treatment groups on days 0, 4, or 8. After adjustment for the type of antimalarial therapy in an analysis of variance, the mean (SD) QTc intervals on days 0, 4, and 8 were 402 (22.6), 416 (23.1), and 405 (24.3) msec, respectively. The mean QTc on day 4 was significantly longer than the mean QTc on days 0 or 8 (P < 0.01 in both cases). A quadratic line was fitted for QTc against time for each antimalarial therapy. No significant differences were found between the quadratic lines of the three groups. A weak association was found between QTc and the degree of parasitemia (r = 0.17, P = 0.04) and temperature (r = -0.23, P = 0.01) measured on day 0. The QTcs were measured in 18 children who experienced a second episode of malaria. The changes in QTc observed during second episodes were similar to those observed during the first attack. Changes in QTc in five children who developed severe malaria were similar to those found in the remaining children who did not develop severe malaria. This study indicates that the QTc interval changes during the early phase of malaria and this change is independent of the type of antimalarial therapy given.