BACKGROUND: Severe malaria in children is associated with long-term neurocognitive impairment, but it is unclear whether it is associated with long-term behavioral problems.
METHODS: Children <5 years old with cerebral malaria (CM) or severe malarial anemia (SMA) treated at Mulago Hospital, Kampala, Uganda were assessed for behavioral outcomes at 0, 6, 12, and 24 months using the Child Behavior Checklist. Sample sizes at 0, 12, and 24 months were 122, 100, and 80 in the CM group, 130, 98, and 81 in the SMA group, and 149, 123, and 90 in healthy community control (CC) children, respectively. Age adjusted z-scores for behavioral outcomes were computed using scores for the CC group. Study groups were compared using regression models adjusted for age, nutritional status, preschool education, and socioeconomic status.
RESULTS: At 12 months, children with SMA had higher z-scores than CC children for internalizing (mean difference, 0.49; SE, 0.14; P = .001), externalizing (mean difference, 0.49; SE, 0.15; P = .001), and total problems (mean difference, 0.51; SE, 0.15; P < .001). Children with CM had higher adjusted z-scores than CC children for externalizing problems (mean difference, 0.39; SE, 0.15; P = .009) but not internalizing or total problems. At 24 months, children with CM or SMA both had increased internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems compared with CC children (P ≤ .05 for all).
CONCLUSIONS: CM and SMA are associated with long-term internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems in children. They may contribute substantially to mental health morbidity in children <5 years old in malaria endemic areas.
BCS — Blantyre coma score
CBCL — child behavior checklist
CC — community control
CM — cerebral malaria
CM-R — CM and malaria retinopathy
SMA — severe malarial anemia