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Automated red blood cell exchange as an adjunctive treatment for severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria at the Vienna General Hospital in Austria: a retrospective cohort study

Malaria Journal
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1186/1475-2875-11-158
  • Research


Background Severe falciparum malaria is associated with considerable rates of mortality, despite the administration of appropriate anti-malarial treatment. Since overall survival is associated with total parasite biomass, blood exchange transfusion has been proposed as a potential method to rapidly reduce peripheral parasitaemia. However, current evidence suggests that this treatment modality may not improve outcome. Automated red blood cell exchange (also referred to as “erythrocytapheresis”) has been advocated as an alternative method to rapidly remove parasites from circulating blood without affecting patients’ volume and electrolyte status. However, only limited evidence from case reports and case series is available for this adjunctive treatment. This retrospective cohort study describes the use of automated red blood cell exchange for the treatment of severe malaria at the Medical University of Vienna. Methods Epidemiologic data for imported malaria cases in Austria are reported and data of patients treated for malaria at the General Hospital/Medical University of Vienna were extracted from electronic hospital records. Results Between 2000 and 2010, 146 patients were hospitalized at the Medical University of Vienna due to malaria and 16 of those were classified as severe malaria cases. Eleven patients of this cohort were potentially eligible for an adjunctive treatment with automated red blood cell exchange. Five patients eventually underwent this procedure within a period of seven hours (range: 3–19 hours) after hospital admission. Six patients did not undergo this adjunctive treatment following the decision of the treating physician. The procedure was well tolerated in all cases and rapid reduction in parasite counts was achieved without occurrence of haemodynamic complications. One patient died within seven days, whereas four patients survived without any sequelae. Discussion and conclusion Automated red blood cell exchange was a safe and efficient procedure to rapidly clear peripheral parasitaemia. Whether the fast reduction in parasite biomass may ultimately improve patient survival remains however unclear. Randomized controlled trials are needed to conclusively appreciate the value of this adjunctive treatment.

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