Background: Early recognition of children at highest risk of dying and the targeting of appropriate drug therapy are vital to the improvement of paediatric care in developing countries. This will rely upon the development of simple clinically-based algorithms and treatment guidelines.
Aim: To determine the role of bacteraemia in children presenting with clinical signs and symptoms of severe malaria.
Design: Retrospective analysis of blood culture results following prospective data collection.
Methods: We studied 251 children presenting with symptoms and signs of severe malaria to a tertiary referral centre in Ghana. Blood was taken for malaria blood films, bacterial culture and haemograms.
Results: On the basis of clinical signs alone, malaria-film-positive (n = 182) and -negative (n = 69) patients were indistinguishable. Some 40% of film-negative patients were bacteraemic, vs. 12% of film-positive patients. Severe malaria and bacteraemia were not positively associated. Film-negative bacteraemic patients had a mortality of 39%, primarily affecting the age group <30 months.
Discussion: Infants presenting with symptoms and signs of severe malaria but a negative malaria film require immediate antibiotic treatment.