Splenomegaly is one of the most common features of malaria. However, spontaneous splenic rupture, although unusual, represents a severe complication often leading to death. It is mostly seen in acute infection and primary attack, and it is most commonly associated with Plasmodium vivax. Here, a case of spontaneous splenic rupture diagnosed with a portable ultrasound apparatus shortly after starting treatment and with recurrent parasitaemia after splenectomy, is reported.
In November 2015, a 45-year-old Brazilian man presented to the hospital in Manaus with fever, headache and myalgia. He was diagnosed with P. vivax malaria and, after a normal G6PD test, he started treatment with chloroquine and primaquine and was discharged. Two days later, he went back to the hospital with abdominal pain, dyspnea, dry cough, pallor, oliguria and fever. Using a portable ultrasound, he was diagnosed of rupture of the spleen, which was removed by emergency surgery. After this episode, he suffered two more malaria episodes with high parasitaemia at approximately 2-month intervals. DNA from different portions of the spleen was extracted and a qualitative PCR was performed to detect P. vivax.
The splenic rupture suffered by this patient occurred 2 days after starting the treatment. Having a portable ultrasound apparatus may have saved the patient's life, as it revealed a haemorrhage needing an urgent surgery. Parasites were detected by PCR in the extracted spleen. This patient suffered two more vivax malaria diagnosed episodes in spite of receiving and completing treatment with chloroquine and primaquine for each clinical attack. Splenic rupture during acute malaria is uncommon, but it is likely underdiagnosed and underreported, because the lack of means and equipment hinders diagnostic confirmation, especially in endemic areas.