Higher Rates of Misdiagnosis in Pediatric Patients Versus Adults Hospitalized With Imported Malaria

Adam E Goldman-Yassen, Vidya K Mony, Paul M Arguin, Johanna P Daily
Pediatric Emergency Care 2016, 32 (4): 227-231

OBJECTIVES: Despite the availability of effective antimalarial prophylaxis, imported adult and pediatric malaria occurs in the United States, and this can pose diagnostic issues. We examined the clinical characteristics and diagnostic challenges of imported malaria requiring adult or pediatric inpatient admission at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx which provides care for a large population of immigrants from malaria endemic areas.

STUDY DESIGN: We conducted a retrospective single center review of patients admitted with a diagnosis of malaria at Montefiore Medical Center from 2005 through 2012. We extracted historical, clinical, and laboratory values from the electronic medical record and patient charts.

RESULTS: We identified 95 patients who were diagnosed and hospitalized with malaria from 2005 to 2012, 33 (35%) of them were children and 17 (18%) were with severe malaria. Most patients contracted malaria while visiting friends and relatives in West Africa. Only 38% of travelers took prophylaxis, and fewer than half reported taking it as prescribed. Misdiagnosis by emergency room or primary care doctors was observed in almost one quarter of all of the patients. Misdiagnosis occurred significantly more frequently in children (43%) compared to adults (13%) (P = 0.002). Pediatric patients were more likely to present with abdominal pain (42% vs. 15%; P = 0.005).

CONCLUSIONS: Pediatric patients admitted for imported malaria at Montefiore Medical Center had a higher rate of misdiagnosis and presented with more gastrointestinal symptoms than hospitalized adults. By describing the clinical characteristics of patients with imported malaria, we hope to improve diagnostic accuracy by health care workers and raise awareness that friends and relatives may require more intensive pretravel counseling.

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