Aims: To study the clinical and demographic aspects as well as the outcomes of severe cases of malaria infections managed in the intensive care unit of the Sarawak General Hospital, Kuching from January 1996 to December 2001.
Methods: All cases of malaria admitted to the intensive care unit of the Sarawak General Hospital from January 1996 to December 2001 were identified from the intensive care records and retrospectively reviewed.
Results: A total of 31 cases of malaria were managed in the intensive care unit of the Sarawak General Hospital in the six-year period. Twenty-eight cases were P. falciparum infections; two were P. vivax and one was a mixed infection of P. falciparum and P. vivax. Fever with or without chills and rigors, headache, abdominal pain and vomiting were the four commonest presenting complaints for P. falciparum infections. Patients with both abdominal pain and hepatomegaly have significantly higher mortality. The fatal cases, at presentation, had higher parasite counts, higher bilirubin, aminotransferase, potassium and urea levels, but lower haemoglobin and platelet counts, and more deranged coagulation profiles compared to surviving patients. The major complications include acute renal failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, cerebral malaria and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, haemolytic anaemia and liver dysfunction. A single case of vivax malaria, which was complicated by septicaemic shock and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy was also documented. Higher mortality rate was documented if the antimalarial medication was not commenced on the day of admission into hospital.
Conclusion: Several infections of P. falciparum are still associated with significant mortality. Other confounding factors include the patient's own initiating quinine therapy. Aggressive and appropriate therapy is life saving. Earlier anti-malaria treatment may improve the survival rate for falciparum malaria. The isolated case of death from P. vivax infection argues against complacency in the management of even the "benign" form of the infection.