Effect of Iron Chelation Therapy on Recovery from Deep Coma in Children with Cerebral Malaria

Victor Gordeuk, Philip Thuma, Gary Brittenham, Christine Mclaren, Dean Parry, Anita Backenstose, Godfrey Biemba, Roland Msiska, Laura Holmes, Elizabeth Mckinley, Linda Vargas, Robert Gilkeson, A. A. Poltera

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Cerebral malaria is a severe complication of Plasmodium falciparum infection in children, with a mortality rate of 15 to 50 percent despite antimalarial therapy. To determine whether combining iron chelation with quinine therapy speeds the recovery of consciousness, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of the iron chelator deferoxamine in 83 Zambian children with cerebral malaria. To be enrolled, patients had to be less than six years old, have P. falciparum parasitemia, have normal cerebrospinal fluid without evidence of bacterial infection, and be in a coma from which they could not be aroused. Deferoxamine (100 mg per kilogram of body weight per day, infused intravenously for 72 hours) or placebo was added to standard therapy with quinine and sulfadoxine—pyrimethamine. The time to the recovery of full consciousness, time to parasite clearance, and mortality were examined with Cox proportional-hazards regression analysis. The rate of recovery of full consciousness among the 42 patients given deferoxamine was 1.3 times that among the 41 given placebo (95 percent confidence interval, 0.7 to 2.3); the median time to recovery was 20.2 hours in the deferoxamine group and 43.1 hours in the placebo group (P = 0.38). Among 50 patients with deep coma, the rate of recovery of full consciousness was increased 2.2-fold with deferoxamine (95 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 4.7), decreasing the median recovery time from 68.2 to 24.1 hours (P = 0.03). Among 69 patients for whom data on parasite clearance were available, the rate of clearance with deferoxamine was 2.0 times that with placebo (95 percent confidence interval, 1.2 to 3.6). Among all 83 patients, mortality was 17 percent in the deferoxamine group and 22 percent in the placebo group (P = 0.52). Iron chelation therapy may hasten the clearance of parasitemia and enhance recovery from deep coma in cerebral malaria. (N Engl J Med 1992; 327:1473–7.), CEREBRAL malaria, one of the most severe complications of infection with Plasmodium falciparum, is especially common among young children. Despite therapy with parenteral antimalarial agents and attentive management of complications, the mortality rate is 15 to 50 percent and gross neurologic sequelae persist in about 10 percent of the children who survive.1 2 3 It is estimated that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, over 1 million children die from severe forms of malaria annually.4 , 5 Cerebral malaria is diagnosed when asexual forms of P. falciparum are found in the blood of a patient with signs of an acute, diffuse symmetric encephalopathy not attributable to…

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1473-1477
Number of pages5
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 19 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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