Background: Inpatient treatment for malaria without microscopic confirmation of the diagnosis occurs commonly in sub-Saharan Africa. Differences in mortality in children who are tested by microscopy for Plasmodium falciparum infection as compared with those not tested are not well characterized.
Methods: A retrospective chart review was conducted of all children up to 15 years of age admitted to Mulago Hospital, Kampala, Uganda from January 2002 to July 2005, with a diagnosis of malaria and analyzed according to microscopy testing for P. falciparum.
Results: A total of 23,342 children were treated for malaria during the study period, 991 (4.2%) of whom died. Severe malarial anemia in 7827 (33.5%) and cerebral malaria in 1912 (8.2%) were the 2 common causes of malaria-related admissions. Children who did not receive microscopy testing had a higher case fatality rate than those with a positive blood smear (7.5% versus 3.2%, P < 0.001). After adjustment for age, malaria complications, and comorbid conditions, children who did not have microscopy performed or had a negative blood smear had a higher risk of death than those with a positive blood smear [odds ratio (OR): 3.49, 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.88-4.22, P < 0.001; and OR: 1.59, 95% CI: 1.29-1.96, P < 0.001, respectively].
Conclusions: Diagnosis of malaria in the absence of microscopic confirmation is associated with significantly increased mortality in hospitalized Ugandan children. Inpatient diagnosis of malaria should be supported by microscopic or rapid diagnostic test confirmation.