Background: Children under 5 represent 86% of annual malaria deaths in the world. Following increasing trends in international travel, cases of imported malaria are rising in North America. We describe the epidemiology of malaria diagnosed at a tertiary care pediatric center in the multicultural city of Toronto.
Method: Retrospective chart review of all laboratory confirmed malaria from birth to <18 years between July 1, 1997 and June 30, 2013. Epidemiological data, travel history, chemoprophylaxis history, as well as clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment were extracted.
Results: In total 107 children were diagnosed with malaria in the 16 year time period. Plasmodium falciparum malaria was identified in 76 (71%), Plasmodium vivax in 28 (26%). Median age of infected children was 6.7 years where 35% of children were born in Canada, 63% were recent or previous immigrants. Of those who resided in Canada, reason for travel included visiting friends or relatives (VFR) 95% and tourism or education (5%). Most common countries of infection were Ghana (22%), Nigeria (20%) and India (14%). Median parasitemia at presentation to our institution was 0.4% (IQR 0.1-2.3) with a maximum parasitemia of 31%. Nineteen (18%) met the WHO criteria for severe malaria due to hyperparasitemia, with 3 of these cases also meeting clinical criteria for severe malaria. One third of patients had a delay in treatment of 2 or more days. Ten percent of children had seen two or more primary health care professionals prior to admission. Prophylaxis was documented in 22 (21%), and out of those, 6 (27%) were appropriate for the region of travel and only 1 case was documented as adherent to their prescription. There were no cases of fatality.
Conclusion: Malaria continues to be a significant disease in returning travelers and immigrant or refugee populations. An increase in physician awareness is required. Appropriate pre-travel advice, insect protection measures, effective chemoprophylaxis is needed to reduce the incidence and improve the management of imported pediatric malaria.