MWJ 2016, 7, 6
Falciparum malaria in endemic areas continues to occur in asymptomatic cases, which contribute to the persistence of transmission as well as the size of the parasite reservoirs. Recent successes in malaria control have resulted in renewed interest in malaria eradication and identification of the human infectious reservoir is essential for this. In this study, we evaluated prevalence of microscopic and submicroscopic gametocytes that were obtained from asymptomatic primary school children from Bagamoyo rural in Tanzania. Samples were collected from 501 asymptomatic primary school children (6-14 years of age) from 7 villages in Bagamoyo district. Participants were screened for malaria in the field using RDT, and samples were brought to the laboratory for microscopy and molecular analysis. Parasite density was determined by microscopy, and gametocyte carriage identification was performed by RT-qPCR targeting gametocyte-specific genes. Asymptomatic infection was found to be 45.1% (95%: CI=40.7-49.6) by RT-qPCR, followed by RDT, 14.2% (95%: CI=11.2-17.5) and microscopy 6.8% (95%: CI=4.7-9.4). Parasite prevalence by microscopy was 12% (23/191) in boys compared to 3.6% (11/310) in girls (p<0.001). Gametocytes were detected in 12.6% (226/501) of the asymptomatic school children by RT-qPCR compared to only 0.8% (4/501) of the children by microscopy (P=0.008). Asymptomatic infection and submicroscopic gametocyte carriage were high in the study area. The detection of asymptomatic cases with circulating submicroscopic P. falciparum gametocytes in school children indicates that these form a substantive gametocyte reservoir that sustains malaria transmission. Asymptomatic carriers and submicroscopic infections should therefore be considered when implementing elimination strategies of the disease.