Background: Cerebral malaria, defined as otherwise unexplained coma in a patient with circulating parasitemia, is a common disease in the developing world. The clinical diagnosis lacks specificity and children with other underlying causes of coma might be misdiagnosed as having cerebral malaria. The presence of malarial retinopathy can be used to differentiate children whose comas are caused by Plasmodium falciparum and its attendant pathophysiologies from those with other reasons for their abnormal mental status. Children with cerebral malaria who lack malarial retinopathy have not previously been described.
Methods: All patients admitted to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, during a 12-month period with a clinical diagnosis of cerebral malaria were evaluated for the presence of malarial retinopathy. Thirty-two patients lacked retinopathy findings. Clinical, laboratory, and radiologic information data were collected.
Results: Thirty-two cases of retinopathy-negative cerebral malaria are presented.
Conclusions: Children with retinopathy-negative cerebral malaria share a common clinical phenotype with lower rates of mortality compared with those who have malarial retinopathy. There are at least 4 possible pathophysiologic explanations for this common condition.