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Of 295 children with cerebral malaria, 117 (40%) had an abnormal respiratory pattern; 15 children exhibited more than one pattern during their clinical course. Four distinct patterns were seen. (i) Deep breathing (80 children); this was associated with severe metabolic acidosis, and resolved following treatment with intravenous fluids and/or blood. (ii) Hypoventilation with nystagmus and salivation (18 children); simultaneous electroencephalographic recording revealed continuous electrical seizure activity, demonstrating that these children were in subtle status epilepticus; anticonvulsant treatment resulted in return to normal of blood gases and recovery of consciousness. (iii) Hyperventilation with extensor posturing (20 children), which was associated with varying degrees of intracranial hypertension. (iv) Periodic respiration (14 children); all had clinical features suggestive of transtentorial herniation, and died following a respiratory arrest. Abnormal respiratory patterns can alert the clinician to complications of cerebral malaria that require treatment. Recognition of these patterns and rapid initiation of appropriate supportive therapy may help to reduce the high mortality rate of this disease.

Original publication




Journal article


Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg

Publication Date





305 - 308


Animals, Child, Preschool, Humans, Hyperventilation, Infant, Kenya, Malaria, Cerebral, Plasmodium falciparum, Respiratory Insufficiency