Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options Skip directly to A-Z link Skip directly to A-Z link Skip directly to A-Z link
Volume 14, Number 11—November 2008

Severe Malaria and Artesunate Treatment, Norway

Cite This Article

To the Editor: Approximately 8,000 cases of imported falciparum malaria are reported in Europe each year (1). In a study from Belgium of 1,743 persons with fever acquired in the Tropics, only falciparum malaria resulted in deaths (2).

Until recently, the standard treatment of severe malaria was intravenous quinine (3). Frequent adverse effects, however, and reports of limited clinical efficacy in some falciparum malaraia–endemic areas preclude its usefulness (4). In contrast, artesunate, a water-soluble artemisinin derivate extracted from the plant Artemesia annua (quinghao), is considered safe and highly efficacious (4,5). Artesunate has the advantage of rapidly killing malaria parasites only a few hours after invading the erythrocyte, and it also reduces cytoadherance (4). Resistance to artesunate at the Cambodia–Thailand border has been reported, but until now artesunate resistance has not been considered a problem in most malaria–endemic regions (5,6). On the basis of 6 randomized controlled trials comparing artesunate and quinine, a recent Cochrane review recommended artesunate as the first-line treatment in adults with severe malaria in such areas (7). Similar recommendations were issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006 (8). Also, the European surveillance network, TropNetEurope, and the Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention in UK Travelers advocate artesunate as the first-line treatment for severe falciparum malaria in travelers (9,10). However, the manufacturers of intravenous (IV) artesunate have not achieved Good Manufacturing Practice certification; currently, the drug is not widely used outside Asia.

In March 2008, an inquiry for patients treated with IV artesunate for severe falciparum malaria was mailed to all major departments of infectious diseases in Norway. All departments responded, and 9 patients treated from February 2006 to May 2008 were identified at 3 centers: 7 at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, 1 at Akershus University Hospital in Nordbyhagen, and 1 at Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo. Clinical and laboratory features were retrospectively obtained from the medical records. Artesunate was produced by Guilin Pharmaceutical, Guangxi, China, and provided from IDIS Pharmaceutical, Weybridge, United Kingdom.

With the exception of 1 patient who had become infected while in Myanmar, all patients acquired falciparum malaria in West Africa (Table). Four patients were Norwegian tourists or businessmen; 4 patients were visiting friends and relatives and had lived in Norway for 2, 15, 20, and 40 years, respectively. One patient was a pregnant (third trimester) immigrant. None of the patients had used antimalarial chemoprophylaxis. The patients’ symptoms fulfilled up to 5 of the WHO criteria for severe malaria: 1 patient had cerebral malaria, 5 impaired consciousness, 5 jaundice, 2 shock, 2 renal failure, 2 hemoglobinuria, 1 hematemesis, and 8 hyperparasitemia (Table). The initial treatment consisted of IV artesunate plus doxycycline (n = 7), IV artesunate monotherapy (n = 1), or IV artesunate plus clindamycin (n = 1). The dosing of artesunate was 2.4 mg/kg at 0 h, 12 h, and 24 h and then daily thereafter. Patient 6 received a 1,200-mg loading dose of quinine before transfer to one of the study hospitals (Table). None of the patients needed exchange transfusions. No adverse effects were attributed to artesunate, and the pregnant patient delivered a healthy child at term. The parasitemia level fell below 1% in all patients within 1–2 days. Treatment was changed to oral antimalarial drugs (artemether–lumefantrine, mefloquine, proguanil–atovaquone, or quinine) within 2.1 days (mean); all patients recovered uneventfully and were discharged from the hospital within 4.2 days (mean) (Table). No episodes of recrudescence were documented posttreatment at 4 weeks follow-up; 7 patients had a negative malaria slide and 2 patients were not examined for parasites but had no clinical recrudescense at follow-up.

Our findings support those of several randomized controlled trials performed in Asia and indicate that therapy with IV artesunate is safe, induces rapid parasite clearing, and usually results in swift clinical cure. Blood exchange transfusion, a labor-intensive and potentially hazardous procedure, was initially considered for 2 of our patients but was deemed unnecessary because of the rapid improvement after artesunate treatment. Artemisinins have short half-lives, and there is an increased risk for recrudescence if used alone. We gave concurrent IV doxycycline or clindamycin to all but 1 of our patients; all patients were treated with an oral drug after IV artesunate, and recrudescence was not noted.

A major obstacle for the use of IV artesunate is its poor availability outside Asia and the fact that its use is not approved in many countries. However, in the United States, artesunate for infusion may now be obtained as an investigational drug from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (, and in the European Union, artesunate recently received the Orphan Medicinal Drug Designation from the European Medicines Agency ( and may be obtained from IDIS Pharma (

If falciparum malaria is acquired at the Cambodia–Thailand border region, artesunate resistance should be considered; except for this region, where mefloquine resistance also is a problem, artesunate is considered to be an efficacious drug with limited reports of resistance. In conclusion, the current case series suggests that IV artesunate is an efficacious and safe treatment option in travelers returning from West Africa with severe falciparum malaria.



We thank Thomas Zoller for valuable comments. We are also indebted to Fredrik Koller Lund, Gunhild Holmaas, and Reidar Kvåle for supportive treatment of one of the patients in the study.


Kristine MørchComments to Author , Øystein Strand, Oona Dunlop, Åse Berg, Nina Langeland, Rafael A.M. Leiva, Jørn-Åge Longva1, Håkon Sjursen, Steinar Skrede, Jon Sundal, and Mogens Jensenius
Author affiliations: Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway (K. Mørch, N. Langeland, R.A.M. Leiva, J.-A. Longva, H. Sjursen, S. Skrede); Akershus University Hospital, Nordbyhagen, Norway (Ø. Strand); Ullevål University Hospital, Oslo, Norway (O. Dunlop, M. Jensenius); Stavanger University Hospital, Stavanger, Norway (Å. Berg, J. Sundal);



  1. Jelinek  T, Schulte  C, Behrens  R, Grobusch  MP, Coulaud  JR, Bisoffi  Z, Imported falciparum malaria in Europe: sentinel surveillance data from the European network on surveillance of imported infectious diseases. Clin Infect Dis. 2002;34:5726. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bottieau  E, Clerinx  J, Schrooten  W, Van den Enden  E, Wouters  R, Van Esbroeck  M, Etiology and outcome of fever after a stay in the tropics. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:16428. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. World Health Organization. Severe falciparum malaria. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2000;94(Suppl 1):190.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Woodrow  CJ, Haynes  RK, Krishna  S. Artemisinins. Postgrad Med J. 2005;81:718. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Rosenthal  PJ. Artesunate for the treatment of severe falciparum malaria. N Engl J Med. 2008;358:182936. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Wongsrichanalai  C, Meshnick  SR. Declining artesunate-mefloquine efficacy against falciparum malaria on the Cambodia-Thailand border. Emerg Infect Dis. 2008;14:7169.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Jones  KL, Donegan  S, Lalloo  DG. Artesunate versus quinine for treating severe malaria. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007; (4):CD005967.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. World Health Organization. Guidelines for the treatment of malaria. 2006 [cited 2008 Sep 11]. Available from
  9. Jelinek  T. Intravenous artesunate recommended for patients with severe malaria: position statement from TropNetEurop. Euro Surveill. 2005;10(11):E051124.5.
  10. Lalloo  DG, Somgadoa  D, Pasvol  G, Chiodini  PL, Whitty  CJ, Beeching  NJ, UK malaria treatment guidelines. J Infect. 2007;54:11121. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar




Cite This Article

DOI: 10.3201/eid1411.080636

1Current affiliation: Aalesund Hospital, Aalesund, Norway.

Related Links


Table of Contents – Volume 14, Number 11—November 2008

EID Search Options
presentation_01 Advanced Article Search – Search articles by author and/or keyword.
presentation_01 Articles by Country Search – Search articles by the topic country.
presentation_01 Article Type Search – Search articles by article type and issue.



Please use the form below to submit correspondence to the authors or contact them at the following address:

Kristine Mørch, Department of Medicine, Haukeland University Hospital, 5021 Bergen, Norway;

Send To

10000 character(s) remaining.


Page created: July 21, 2010
Page updated: July 21, 2010
Page reviewed: July 21, 2010
The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors' affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.