Submicroscopic Plasmodium falciparum infections in pregnancy in Ghana
Malarial parasitaemia below the threshold of microscopy but detectable by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays is common in endemic regions. This study was conducted to examine prevalence, predictors, and effects of submicroscopic Plasmodium falciparum infections in pregnancy. In a cross-sectional study among 530 pregnant women in Ghana, plasmodial infections were assessed by microscopy and PCR assays. Concentrations of haemoglobin and C-reactive protein (CRP) were measured and antimalarial drugs (chloroquine, pyrimethamine) in urine were demonstrated by ELISA dipsticks. By microscopy, 32% of the women were found to harbour malaria parasites. This rate increased to 63% adding the results of the parasite-specific PCR. P. falciparum was present in all but one infection. With increasing gravidity, infection rates and parasite densities decreased and the proportions of submicroscopic parasitaemia among infected women grew. Correspondingly, anaemia, fever and evidence of inflammation (CRP > 0.6 mg/dl) were more frequent in primigravidae than in multigravidae. Antimalarial drugs were detected in 65% of the women and were associated with a reduced prevalence of P. falciparum infections and a raised proportion of submicroscopic parasitaemia. Both gravidity and antimalarial drug use were independent predictors of submicroscopic P. falciparum infections. These infections caused a slight reduction of Hb levels and considerably increased serum concentrations of CRP. Conventional microscopy underestimates the actual extent of malarial infections in pregnancy in endemic regions. Submicroscopic P. falciparum infections are frequent and may contribute to mild anaemia and inflammation in seemingly aparasitaemic pregnant women.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: 1: Institute of Tropical Medicine, Medical Faculty Charité, Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany 2: Presbyterian Mission Hospital, Agogo, Ghana 3: Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Publication date: 2000-03-01