The treatment of malaria

N Engl J Med. 1996 Sep 12;335(11):800-6. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199609123351107.


PIP: Increasing drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum and a resurgence of malaria in tropical areas have effected a change in treatment of malaria in the last two decades. Symptoms of malaria are fever, chills, headache, and malaise. The prognosis worsens as the parasite counts, counts of mature parasites, and counts of neutrophils containing pigment increase. Treatment depends on severity, age of patient, degree of background immunity, likely pattern of susceptibility to antimalarial drugs, and the cost and availability of drugs. Chloroquine should be used for P. vivax, P. malariae, and P. ovale. P. vivax has shown high resistance to chloroquine in Oceania, however. Primaquine may be needed to treat P. vivax and P. ovale to rid the body of hypnozoites that survive in the liver. Chloroquine can treat P. falciparum infections acquired in North Africa, Central America north of the Panama Canal, Haiti, or the Middle East but not in most of Africa and some parts of Asia and South America. In areas of low grade resistance to chloroquine, amodiaquine can be used to effectively treat falciparum malaria. A combination of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine is responsive to falciparum infections with high grade resistance to chloroquine. Mefloquine, halofantrine, or quinine with tetracycline can be used to treat multidrug-resistant P. falciparum. Derivatives of artemisinin obtained from qinghao or sweet wormwood developed as pharmaceuticals in China are the most rapidly acting of all antimalarial drugs. Children tend to tolerate antimalarial drugs well. Children who weigh less than 15 kg should not be given mefloquine. Health workers should not prescribe primaquine to pregnant women or newborns due to the risk of hemolysis. Chloroquine, sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, quinine, and quinidine can be safely given in therapeutic doses throughout pregnancy. Clinical manifestations of severe malaria are hypoglycemia, convulsions, severe anemia, acute renal failure, jaundice, pulmonary edema, cerebral malaria, shock, and acidosis. Health workers should be prepared to treat these symptoms accordingly.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use*
  • Artemisinins*
  • Child
  • Chloroquine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malaria / diagnosis
  • Malaria / drug therapy*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / complications
  • Malaria, Falciparum / therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Prognosis
  • Sesquiterpenes / therapeutic use


  • Antimalarials
  • Artemisinins
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Chloroquine
  • artemisinin