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Severe malaria can be detected in the eyes of comatose children carrying the infection, according to recent findings. Scientists working at the Malaria Research Project in Blantyre, Malawi, found that the disease is associated with ruptured blood vessels in the back of the eye and swelling of the optic nerve. They also observed whitening of the back of the eye.

Coma occurs in the most severe form of the disease, but is also caused by other conditions, making identification of the cause a healthcare priority. According to principal investigator Terrie Taylor, however, eye examinations require expensive equipment and more research is needed to assess the value of widespread use of the technique.

The study, published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, found that the more severe these signs were, the more likely the child was to die or take a long time to recover from their coma. Children in sub-Saharan Africa are most at risk from malaria, which kills about one million people every year.

Link to full Voice of America news story

Link to abstract of research paper by Taylor et al in Archives of Ophthalmology

Reference: Archives of Ophthalmology 122, 1141 (2004)
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