Background: Intravenous (IV) artesunate is the treatment of choice for severe malaria. In Europe, however, no GMP-manufactured product is available and treatment data in European travellers are scarce. Fortunately, artesunate became available in the Netherlands and Belgium through a named patient programme. This is the largest case series of artesunate treated patients with severe malaria in Europe.
Methods: Hospitalized patients treated with IV artesunate between November 2007 and December 2010 in the Netherlands and Belgium were retrospectively evaluated. Patient characteristics, treatment and clinical outcome were recorded on a standardized form and mortality, parasite clearance times and the occurrence of adverse events were evaluated.
Results: Of the 68 treated patients, including 55 with severe malaria, two patients died (2/55 = 3.6%). The mean time to 50% parasite clearance (PCT50), 90% and 99% were 4.4 hours (3.9 - 5.2), 14.8 hours (13.0 - 17.2), and 29.5 hours (25.9 - 34.4) respectively. Artesunate was well tolerated. However, an unusual form of haemolytic anaemia was observed in seven patients. The relationship with artesunate remains uncertain.
Conclusions: Data from the named patient programme demonstrate that IV artesunate is effective and well-tolerated in European travellers lacking immunity. However, increased attention needs to be paid to the possible development of haemolytic anaemia 2-3 weeks after start of treatment.Treatment of IV artesunate should be limited to the period that IV treatment is required and should be followed by a full oral course of an appropriate anti-malarial drug.