Transferrin Saturation and Recovery From Coma in Cerebral Malaria

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To determine if the elevated transferrin saturations found in some patients with severe malaria are associated with an adverse outcome in cerebral malaria, we retrospectively measured baseline saturations in stored serum samples from 81 Zambian children with strictly defined cerebral malaria. The children had been treated with quinine, sulfadoxine- pyrimethamine, and intravenous infusions of either placebo (n = 39) or the iron chelator, desferrioxamine B (n = 42), in a previously reported trial (Gordeuk et al, N Engl J Med 327:1473, 1992). More than one-third of children in both the placebo- and iron chelator-treated groups had transferrin saturations exceeding 43%, which is 3 standard deviations above the expected mean for age. Among children receiving quinine and placebo, those with elevated transferrin saturations had a delayed estimated median time to recover full consciousness (68.2 hours) compared with those with saturations ≤43% (25.4 hours; P = .006). The addition of iron chelation to quinine therapy in children with high saturations appeared to hasten recovery (P = .046). We conclude that increased transferrin saturations may be associated with delayed recovery from coma during standard therapy for cerebral malaria and that serum iron and total iron binding capacity should be measured in future studies.


Gordeuk, V., Thuma, P., McLaren, C., Biemba, G., Zulu, S., Poltera, A., Askin, J., & Brittenham, G. (1995). Transferrin saturation and recovery from coma in cerebral malaria. Blood, 85(11), 3297–3301. https://doi.org/10.1182/blood.V85.11.3297.bloodjournal85113297

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