Background: Neurological signs and symptoms are common in malaria, but observations in Vietnam and Thailand have pointed to a discrete transient neurological syndrome after recovery from severe infections.
Methods: A prospective study of the post-malaria neurological syndrome (PMNS) was conducted at two centres in Vietnam over four years. Criteria for inclusion were recent symptomatic malaria infection with parasites cleared from blood (and in cases of cerebral malaria full recovery of consciousness), and development of neurological or psychiatric symptoms within two months after the acute illness. Half of the patients with severe falciparum malaria had been taking part in a randomised trial of antimalarials.
Findings: Of 18,124 patients with falciparum malaria treated (1176 of whom had severe infections) 19 adults and three children had subsequent PMNS; in one patient it followed uncomplicated malaria and in 21 it followed severe malaria. The overall incidence (95% confidence interval) of PMNS after falciparum malaria at the main study centre was 1.2 per 1000 (0.7 to 1.8 per 1000) and relative risk (95% CI) for developing PMNS after severe versus uncomplicated falciparum malaria was 299 (40 to 2223). 13 patients had an acute confusional state or psychosis, six had one or more generalised convulsions, two had generalised convulsions followed by a long period of acute confusion, and one developed a fine tremor. At the time of PMNS diagnosis all patients were aparasitaemic. The syndrome was self-limiting, median duration 60 h (range 24-240). PMNS was associated with the use of oral mefloquine. In the randomised trial 4.4% (10/228) of patients with severe malaria who received mefloquine after parenteral treatment developed PMNS compared with 0.5% (1/210) of those who received quinine; relative risk 9.2 (95% CI 1.2 to 71.3, p = 0.012).
Interpretation: Mefloquine is not the only risk factor for PMNS but it is a strong one. Where an effective alternative drug is available, mefloquine should not be used after treatment of severe malaria.