Methods: We retrospectively analysed 4 studies of 1801 adults with severe falciparum malaria to determine whether the presence of simple clinical findings might assist patient triage.
Results: If present on admission, shock, oligo-anuria, hypo- or hyperglycaemia, an increased respiratory rate, a decreased Glasgow Coma Score and an absence of fever were independently predictive of death. The variables were used to construct a simple clinical algorithm. When applied to the 1801 patients, this algorithm’s positive predictive value for survival to 48 hours was 99.4 (95% confidence interval (CI) 97.8–99.9) and for survival to discharge 96.9% (95% CI 94.3–98.5). In the 712 patients receiving artesunate, the algorithm’s positive predictive value for survival to 48 hours was 100% (95% CI 97.3–100) and to discharge was 98.5% (95% CI 94.8–99.8).
Conclusions: Simple clinical findings are closely linked to the pathophysiology of severe falciparum malaria in adults. A basic algorithm employing these indices can facilitate the triage of patients in settings where intensive care services are limited. Patients classified as low-risk by this algorithm can be safely managed initially on a general ward whilst awaiting senior clinical review and laboratory data.