Malaria Home > What is Primaquine Used For?

Primaquine is prescribed for the prevention of malaria relapses. It is approved for use in people 18 years old and older. This medication works to prevent malaria symptoms from returning by killing the malaria parasites that exist in the liver. Possible "off-label" (unapproved) uses of primaquine include treating pneumocystis pneumonia and certain other types of malaria infections.

An Overview of Primaquine Uses

Primaquine phosphate is a prescription medication licensed to treat a certain type of malaria infection. Specifically, it is used to completely remove malaria from the liver, thus preventing a malaria relapse, or return of the disease.

Using Primaquine to Treat Malaria

Malaria is a disease caused by an infection with a microscopic parasite called Plasmodium. It is a leading cause of death and disease worldwide, especially in developing countries. While there are over 100 species of Plasmodium, only four types infect humans. These four types include:
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium ovale
  • Plasmodium malariae.
Most people get malaria from the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Less commonly, the disease is spread through contact with infected blood. Malaria is not transmitted from person to person, like the common cold or the flu. You cannot get the disease from casual contact with an infected person (see Malaria Causes for more information).
After the malaria parasites enter the body, they travel to the liver to mature. Once mature, the parasites enter the blood and cause symptoms. Malaria symptoms typically begin 10 to 30 days after someone becomes infected.
Malaria symptoms are categorized as uncomplicated or complicated, with symptoms ranging from mild in an uncomplicated infection to severe and life-threatening in complicated cases.
Early or uncomplicated symptoms of malaria include:
  • Fever
  • Sweats
  • Shaking chills
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea.
If the disease progresses, malaria may become complicated or severe. Severe malaria symptoms may include:
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Mental confusion
  • Coma
  • Severe anemia
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Bleeding due to blood clotting problems
  • Death.
Malaria caused by P. vivax and P. ovale are different from the other types of malaria. This is because these types of malaria parasites can stay in the liver for months, or sometimes years. People infected with these types of malaria may have repeated relapses, which occur when the disease reappears after the symptoms initially went away.
Primaquine is approved to treat malaria caused by P. vivax. Primaquine is just one of several medications used to treat malaria. However, this medication is unique because it cures malaria outside of the bloodstream, preventing recurrence of a malaria infection. It is normally used in combination with another antimalarial medication that treats the malaria in the blood.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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