Evidence and Implications of Mortality Associated with Acute Plasmodium vivax Malaria
Summary: Vivax malaria threatens patients despite relatively low-grade parasitemias in peripheral blood. The tenet of death as a rare outcome, derived from antiquated and flawed clinical classifications, disregarded key clinical evidence, including (i) high rates of mortality in neurosyphilis patients treated with vivax malaria; (ii) significant mortality from zones of endemicity; and (iii) the physiological threat inherent in repeated, very severe paroxysms in any patient, healthy or otherwise. The very well-documented course of this infection, with the exception of parasitemia, carries all of the attributes of “perniciousness” historically linked to falciparum malaria, including severe disease and fatal outcomes. A systematic analysis of the parasite biomass in severely ill patients that includes blood, marrow, and spleen may ultimately explain this historic misunderstanding. Regardless of how this parasite is pernicious, recent data demonstrate that the infection comes with a significant burden of morbidity and associated mortality. The extraordinary burden of malaria is not heavily weighted upon any single continent by a single species of parasite—it is a complex problem for the entire endemic world, and both species are of fundamental importance. Humanity must rally substantial resources, intellect, and energy to counter this daunting but profound threat.