Medical Research Council Laboratories, Department of Epidemiology and Population Science and Department of Medical Parasitology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Department of Tropical Medicine, University of Amsterdam, Department of Paediatrics, Royal Victoria Hospital, Sibanor Health Centre, Banjul, Gambia
Despite prompt treatment with an effective anti-malarial drug, cerebral malaria still has a mortality of 20–30%. To identify factors that may contribute to this high fatality rate, we have studied the relationship between clinical and laboratory features and a fatal outcome in 624 Gambian children with strictly defined cerebral malaria. One hundred twenty-four children (21.5%) died. Three-quarters of the deaths occurred within 24 hr of admission. Multiple logistic regression analysis showed that a cold periphery (odds ratio [OR] = 2.7), a deep coma (OR = 2.0), and hypoglycemia (OR = 4.1) were the clinical signs and laboratory parameters that predicted death most strongly. More than 90% of the children who died had at least one of these conditions. Also, children with elevated urea levels on admission or those who experienced multiple episodes of hypoglycemia or multiple convulsions subsequently were more likely to die. A combination of clinical and laboratory abnormalities can identify a group of children with cerebral malaria who are most at risk of dying, who require intensive care and who are candidates for new forms of therapy.