Background: Imported malaria is an increasing problem. The arrival of 224 African refugees presented the opportunity to investigate the diagnosis and management of imported malaria within the Quebec health care system.
Methods: The refugees were visited at home 3-4 months after arrival in Quebec. For 221, a questionnaire was completed and permission obtained for access to health records; a blood sample for malaria testing was obtained from 210.
Results: Most of the 221 refugees (161 [73%]) had had at least 1 episode of malaria while in the refugee camps. Since arrival in Canada, 87 (39%) had had symptoms compatible with malaria for which medical care was sought. Complete or partial records were obtained for 66 of these refugees and for 2 asymptomatic adults whose children were found to have malaria: malaria had been appropriately investigated in 55 (81%); no malaria smear was requested for the other 13. Smears were reported as positive for 20 but confirmed for only 15 of the 55; appropriate therapy was verified for 10 of the 15. Of the 5 patients with a false-positive diagnosis of malaria, at least 3 received unnecessary therapy. Polymerase chain reaction testing of the blood sample obtained at the home visit revealed malaria parasites in 48 of the 210 refugees (23%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 17%- 29%). The rate of parasite detection was more than twice as high among the 19 refugees whose smears were reported as negative but not sent for confirmation (47%; 95% CI 25%- 71%).
Interpretation: This study has demonstrated errors of both omission and commission in the response to refugees presenting with possible malaria. Smears were not consistently requested for patients whose presenting complaints were not "typical" of malaria, and a large proportion of smears read locally as "negative" were not sent for confirmation. Further effort is required to ensure optimal malaria diagnosis and care in such high-risk populations.