(or primaquine phosphate
) is a medication used in the treatment of malaria
and Pneumocystis pneumonia
. It is a member of the 8-aminoquinoline
group of drugs that includes tafenoquine
Primaquine is mainly used to treat the P. vivax
or P. ovale
malaria. Once the parasite has been eliminated from the bloodstream, the remaining hypnozoites
must be removed from the liver and this is done by administering a 14 day course of primaquine (called radical cure
If primaquine is not administered to patients with proven P. vivax or P. ovale infection, there is a very high likelihood relapse within weeks or months (sometimes years).
When attempting a radical cure, primaquine requires the presence of quinine or chloroquine in order to work. If primaquine is given alone, the cure rate is only 21%. This is why primaquine should always be given with quinine or chloroquine. It is not known if other antimalarials such as mefloquine are likewise able to potentiate the effect of primaquine.
Primaquine is not routinely used to prevent malaria in travellers, and is only used as such when no other alternatives are appropriate. It is not licensed for this use in the U.S. or UK.
Primaquine is also sometimes used presumptively to prevent malaria in people who have gone to areas where P. vivax
or P. ovale
are endemic (called terminal prophylaxis
), but this practise is not common outside of the U.S. and is controversial.
Primaquine is also used in the treatment of Pneumocystis pneumonia
, a fungal
infection commonly occurring in people with AIDS
and, more rarely, in those taking immunosuppressive drugs
. To treat PCP effectively it is usually combined with clindamycin
Side effects of primaquine administration include nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Other known adverse effects that occasionally occur are headache, visual disturbances and intense itching.
Primaquine has also been shown to cause Hemolytic anemia in people of African or Mediterranean descent; this was a plot point in an episode of M*A*S*H, in which Lebanese-American Max Klinger developed anemia while taking primaquine, confusing the doctors who thought it was only a possibility if he were of African descent.
Primaquine causes methemoglobinemia in all patients who take it (levels of up to 18% are reported, normal level is <1%), but this seldom causes symptoms and is always self-limiting. Dangerous levels of methemoglobinemia only occur in patients with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.
Primaquine should not be administered to anyone with Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
as there can be a severe reaction with hemolytic anemia
. Primaquine is contraindicated in pregnancy, because the G-6-PD
status of the fetus would be unknown. Primaquine should not be given to patients with NADH methemoglobin reductase deficiency
The packaging label states that primaqine should not be given to patients with systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis, but the rationale behind this is questionable.
Primaquine doses are always expressed as base, not as salt (15 mg base=26.3 mg phosphate salt).
- Plasmodium vivax: 30 mg once daily for 14 days (note that older authorities quote 15 mg instead);
- Plasmodium ovale: 15 mg once daily for 14 days.
The FDA licensed dose in the U.S. is 15 mg once daily, but this is not the dose recommended by the CDC for P. vivax; the FDA decision in 1952 to limit the primaquine dose to 15 mg was motivated by the fact that G-6-PD testing was not routinely available, 15 mg was known to be effective against the P. vivax strains found in Korea (in the US, the main use of primaquine at that time was to treat soldiers returning from war), and because 15 mg of primaquine is not likely to cause hemolysis in G-6-PD deficient patients. Primaquine is not licensed in the UK, but is available on a named-patient basis.
The dose of primaquine in primary malaria prophylaxis is 30 mg once daily, starting the day before travel and continuing for 7 days after returning. It needs only to be given for seven days after returning because primaquine is active against liver schizonts
stages) and is therefore a causal prophylactic
. In children, the dose is 0.6 mg/kg/day (the maximum daily dose is 30 mg).
Manufacturing and availability
Primaquine was first tested on humans during the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study
in 1944. Primaquine was licensed for use in the US by the FDA
in 1952 and is available as a generic drug from a variety of manufacturers.
Primaquine is not licensed for use in the UK. It is available on a named patient basis only from Durbin or IDIS. Primaquine tablets available in the UK contain 7.5 mg primaquine base (13.2 mg phosphate salt). Primaquine tablets available in the U.S. contain 15 mg base (26.3 mg phosphate salt).