Severe malaria is a medical emergency. The airway should be secured in unconscious patients and breathing and circulation assessed. The patient should be weighed or body weight estimated so that drugs, including antimalarials and fluids can be given on a body weight basis. An intravenous cannula should be inserted and immediate measurements of blood glucose (stick test), haematocrit/haemoglobin, parasitaemia and, in adults, renal function should be taken. A detailed clinical examination should be conducted, with particular note of the level of consciousness and record of the coma score. Several coma scores have been advocated. The Glasgow coma scale is suitable for adults, and the simple Blantyre modification or children's Glasgow coma scale are easily performed in children. Unconscious patients should have a lumbar puncture for cerebrospinal fluid analysis to exclude bacterial meningitis.
The degree of acidosis is an important determinant of outcome; the plasma bicarbonate or venous lactate level should therefore be measured if possible. If facilities are available, arterial or capillary blood pH and gases should be measured in patients who are unconscious, hyperventilating or in shock. Blood should be taken for cross-match, and (if possible) full blood count, platelet count, clotting studies, blood culture and full biochemistry should be conducted. The assessment of fluid balance is critical in severe malaria. Respiratory distress, in particular with acidotic breathing in severely anaemic children, often indicates hypovolaemia and requires prompt rehydration and, where indicated, blood transfusion (see also section 8.10.3).