The presence of asymptomatic infections has serious implications for malaria elimination campaigns. Since asymptomatic carriers do not seek treatment for their infection and may become gametocyte carriers, they undoubtedly contribute to the persistence of malaria transmission in a population. The presence of asymptomatic parasitemias was noted in areas with seasonal malaria transmission. In Ethiopia there is a paucity of data regarding the prevalence of asymptomatic malaria carriage. This study was undertaken to assess the presence and prevalence of asymptomatic Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax infections in south-central Oromia, Ethiopia.
A total of 1094 apparently healthy individuals ≥ 2 years of age in south-central Oromia, Ethiopia, an area with seasonal and unstable malaria transmission, were screened for the presence of asymptomatic plasmodial infections. Finger-prick blood samples were taken from each participant for blood film preparation for microscopy and the rapid diagnostic test (RDT). Blood samples were also spotted on Whatman 3MM filter paper for parasite DNA extraction.
The prevalence of asymptomatic Plasmodium carriage (P. falciparum, P. vivax and mixed species) was 5.0 % (55/1,094) as determined by microscopy, while the prevalence as determined using RDT was 8.2 % (90/1,094). PCR was done on 47 of 55 microscopy-confirmed and on 79 of 90 RDT-confirmed samples. PCR detected parasite DNA in 89.4 % (42/47) of the microscopy-positive samples and in 77.2 % (61/79) of the RDT-positive samples. No significant difference was observed in the prevalence of asymptomatic P. falciparum or P. vivax infections in the study area (P > 0.1). However, the prevalence of asymptomatic parasitaemia was significantly associated with gender (OR = 0.47, P = 0.015; being higher in males than females) and age (X(2) = 25, P < 0.001; being higher in younger than in older individuals). Age and parasite densities had an inverse relationship.
This study confirms the presence of asymptomatic P. falciparum and P. vivax infections in south-central Oromia, an area with low, seasonal and unstable malaria transmission in Ethiopia. Of 55 microscopically confirmed asymptomatic infections, P. falciparum monoinfection accounted for 45.5 % and of 90 RDT positive asymptomatic infections, 66.7 % were P. falciparum. Although not statistically significant, P. falciparum accounted for a relatively large number of the asymptomatic infections as determined by both tests. The prevalence of asymptomatic parasitaemia was highest in the younger age group. HRP-2-based RDTs specific for P. falciparum showed high false positivity rate compared to Plasmodium lactate dehydrogenase (pLDH) specific to P. vivax. Although microscopy and RDT detected substantial numbers of asymptomatic infections in apparently healthy inhabitants, the use of a highly sensitive molecular diagnostics offers a more accurate assessment of the magnitude of asymptomatic infections.