The prevalence and density of asymptomatic Plasmodium falciparum infections among children and adults in three communities of western Kenya.
BACKGROUND: Further reductions in malaria incidence as more countries approach malaria elimination require the identification and treatment of asymptomatic individuals who carry mosquito-infective Plasmodium gametocytes that are responsible for furthering malaria transmission. Assessing the relationship between total parasitaemia and gametocytaemia in field surveys can provide insight as to whether detection of low-density, asymptomatic Plasmodium falciparum infections with sensitive molecular methods can adequately detect the majority of infected individuals who are potentially capable of onward transmission. METHODS: In a cross-sectional survey of 1354 healthy children and adults in three communities in western Kenya across a gradient of malaria transmission (Ajigo, Webuye, and Kapsisywa-Kipsamoite), asymptomatic P. falciparum infections were screened by rapid diagnostic tests, blood smear, and quantitative PCR of dried blood spots targeting the varATS gene in genomic DNA. A multiplex quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR assay targeting female and male gametocyte genes (pfs25, pfs230p), a gene with a transcriptional pattern restricted to asexual blood stages (piesp2), and human GAPDH was also developed to determine total parasite and gametocyte densities among parasitaemic individuals. RESULTS: The prevalence of varATS-detectable asymptomatic infections was greatest in Ajigo (42%), followed by Webuye (10%). Only two infections were detected in Kapsisywa. No infections were detected in Kipsamoite. Across all communities, children aged 11-15 years account for the greatest proportion total and sub-microscopic asymptomatic infections. In younger age groups, the majority of infections were detectable by microscopy, while 68% of asymptomatically infected adults (> 21 years old) had sub-microscopic parasitaemia. Piesp2-derived parasite densities correlated poorly with microscopy-determined parasite densities in patent infections relative to varATS-based detection. In general, both male and female gametocytaemia increased with increasing varATS-derived total parasitaemia. A substantial proportion (41.7%) of individuals with potential for onward transmission had qPCR-estimated parasite densities below the limit of microscopic detection, but above the detectable limit of varATS qPCR. CONCLUSIONS: This assessment of parasitaemia and gametocytaemia in three communities with different transmission intensities revealed evidence of a substantial sub-patent infectious reservoir among asymptomatic carriers of P. falciparum. Experimental studies are needed to definitively determine whether the low-density infections in communities such as Ajigo and Webuye contribute significantly to malaria transmission.
Salgado, C; Ayodo, G; Macklin, MD; Gould, MP; Nallandhighal, S; Odhiambo, EO; Obala, A; O'Meara, WP; John, CC; Tran, TM
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