A report of cerebral malaria treated with automated red blood cell exchange


Aurora Sinai Medical Center


BACKGROUND: Adjunctive automated whole blood or red blood cell exchange (RBCEx) can rapidly decrease malarial hyperparasitemia. Several case reports and series suggest improvement in clinical symptomatology; however, recent Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations concluded that RBCEx has no efficacy as an adjunctive therapy. We present a case of mental status changes secondary to cerebral malaria treated with automated RBCEx resulting in rapid and dramatic neurologic improvement.

CASE REPORT: An 84-year-old Somali woman presented with a 3-day history of altered mental status, spiking fevers, chills, bilateral leg pain and weakness, and intermittent diarrhea. Her travel history included a recent trip to Kenya for 1 month without antimalarial chemoprophylaxis. During the hospital stay, her health declined, and she became obtunded. Physical examination revealed fever, tachypnea, hypertension, hypoxia, and no response to verbal or physical stimuli. Her hemoglobin decreased from 12.6 to 6.5 g/dL with 12% intraerythrocytic parasitemia by thin smear. Intraerythrocytic trophozoites and banana-shaped gametocytes were present consistent with Plasmodium falciparum. An emergent 1.5-volume RBC mass automated RBCEx and quinidine infusion decreased her parasitemia to 2%. The patient's mental status improved throughout the procedure, and after the 2½-hour procedure, the patient was alert, oriented, and speaking coherently. The patient continued to receive quinidine and artesunate 1 day later from CDC.

CONCLUSION: Automated RBCEx transfusion reduced the parasite burden and restored neurologic functioning in a patient with cerebral malaria while awaiting definitive treatment with artesunate.

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