UK malaria treatment guidelines 2016

J Infect. 2016 Jun;72(6):635-649. doi: 10.1016/j.jinf.2016.02.001. Epub 2016 Feb 12.


1.Malaria is the tropical disease most commonly imported into the UK, with 1300-1800 cases reported each year, and 2-11 deaths. 2. Approximately three quarters of reported malaria cases in the UK are caused by Plasmodium falciparum, which is capable of invading a high proportion of red blood cells and rapidly leading to severe or life-threatening multi-organ disease. 3. Most non-falciparum malaria cases are caused by Plasmodium vivax; a few cases are caused by the other species of plasmodium: Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium malariae or Plasmodium knowlesi. 4. Mixed infections with more than one species of parasite can occur; they commonly involve P. falciparum with the attendant risks of severe malaria. 5. There are no typical clinical features of malaria; even fever is not invariably present. Malaria in children (and sometimes in adults) may present with misleading symptoms such as gastrointestinal features, sore throat or lower respiratory complaints. 6. A diagnosis of malaria must always be sought in a feverish or sick child or adult who has visited malaria-endemic areas. Specific country information on malaria can be found at P. falciparum infection rarely presents more than six months after exposure but presentation of other species can occur more than a year after exposure. 7. Management of malaria depends on awareness of the diagnosis and on performing the correct diagnostic tests: the diagnosis cannot be excluded until more than one blood specimen has been examined. Other travel related infections, especially viral haemorrhagic fevers, should also be considered. 8. The optimum diagnostic procedure is examination of thick and thin blood films by an expert to detect and speciate the malarial parasites. P. falciparum and P. vivax (depending upon the product) malaria can be diagnosed almost as accurately using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) which detect plasmodial antigens. RDTs for other Plasmodium species are not as reliable. 9. Most patients treated for P. falciparum malaria should be admitted to hospital for at least 24 h as patients can deteriorate suddenly, especially early in the course of treatment. In specialised units seeing large numbers of patients, outpatient treatment may be considered if specific protocols for patient selection and follow up are in place. 10. Uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria should be treated with an artemisinin combination therapy (Grade 1A). Artemether-lumefantrine (Riamet(®)) is the drug of choice (Grade 2C) and dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (Eurartesim(®)) is an alternative. Quinine or atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone(®)) can be used if an ACT is not available. Quinine is highly effective but poorly-tolerated in prolonged treatment and should be used in combination with an additional drug, usually oral doxycycline. 11. Severe falciparum malaria, or infections complicated by a relatively high parasite count (more than 2% of red blood cells parasitized) should be treated with intravenous therapy until the patient is well enough to continue with oral treatment. Severe malaria is a rare complication of P. vivax or P. knowlesi infection and also requires parenteral therapy. 12. The treatment of choice for severe or complicated malaria in adults and children is intravenous artesunate (Grade 1A). Intravenous artesunate is unlicensed in the EU but is available in many centres. The alternative is intravenous quinine, which should be started immediately if artesunate is not available (Grade 1A). Patients treated with intravenous quinine require careful monitoring for hypoglycemia. 13. Patients with severe or complicated malaria should be managed in a high-dependency or intensive care environment. They may require haemodynamic support and management of: acute respiratory distress syndrome, disseminated intravascular coagulation, acute kidney injury, seizures, and severe intercurrent infections including Gram-negative bacteraemia/septicaemia. 14. Children with severe malaria should also be treated with empirical broad spectrum antibiotics until bacterial infection can be excluded (Grade 1B). 15. Haemolysis occurs in approximately 10-15% patients following intravenous artesunate treatment. Haemoglobin concentrations should be checked approximately 14 days following treatment in those treated with IV artemisinins (Grade 2C). 16. Falciparum malaria in pregnancy is more likely to be complicated: the placenta contains high levels of parasites, stillbirth or early delivery may occur and diagnosis can be difficult if parasites are concentrated in the placenta and scanty in the blood. 17. Uncomplicated falciparum malaria in the second and third trimester of pregnancy should be treated with artemether-lumefantrine (Grade 2B). Uncomplicated falciparum malaria in the first trimester of pregnancy should usually be treated with quinine and clindamycin but specialist advice should be sought. Severe malaria in any trimester of pregnancy should be treated as for any other patient with artesunate preferred over quinine (Grade 1C). 18. Children with uncomplicated malaria should be treated with an ACT (artemether-lumefantrine or dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine) as first line treatment (Grade 1A). Quinine with doxycycline or clindamycin, or atovaquone-proguanil at appropriate doses for weight can also be used. Doxycycline should not be given to children under 12 years. 19. Either an oral ACT or chloroquine can be used for the treatment of non-falciparum malaria. An oral ACT is preferred for a mixed infection, if there is uncertainty about the infecting species, or for P. vivax infection from areas where chloroquine resistance is common (Grade 1B). 20. Dormant parasites (hypnozoites) persist in the liver after treatment of P. vivax or P. ovale infection: the only currently effective drug for eradication of hypnozoites is primaquine (1A). Primaquine is more effective at preventing relapse if taken at the same time as chloroquine (Grade 1C). 21. Primaquine should be avoided or given with caution under expert supervision in patients with Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD), in whom it may cause severe haemolysis. 22. Primaquine (for eradication of P. vivax or P. ovale hypnozoites) is contraindicated in pregnancy and when breastfeeding (until the G6PD status of child is known); after initial treatment for these infections a pregnant woman should take weekly chloroquine prophylaxis until after delivery or cessation of breastfeeding when hypnozoite eradication can be considered. 23. An acute attack of malaria does not confer protection from future attacks: individuals who have had malaria should take effective anti-mosquito precautions and chemoprophylaxis during future visits to endemic areas.

Keywords: Guidelines; Malaria; Treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use*
  • Artemisinins / therapeutic use
  • Artesunate
  • Breast Feeding
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malaria / drug therapy*
  • Malaria / epidemiology
  • Malaria / parasitology
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Malaria, Vivax / drug therapy*
  • Malaria, Vivax / parasitology
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Plasmodium vivax / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / drug therapy
  • Primaquine / therapeutic use
  • Travel


  • Antimalarials
  • Artemisinins
  • Artesunate
  • dihydroartemisinin
  • artemisinine
  • Primaquine