Maintenance of high temporal Plasmodium falciparum genetic diversity and complexity of infection in asymptomatic and symptomatic infections in Kilifi, Kenya from 2007 to 2018

Kimenyi KM, Wamae K, Ngoi JM, de Laurent ZR, Ndwiga L, Osoti V, Obiero G, Abdi AI, Bejon P, Ochola-Oyier LI
Malar J. 2022;21

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BACKGROUND: High levels of genetic diversity are common characteristics of Plasmodium falciparum parasite populations in high malaria transmission regions. There has been a decline in malaria transmission intensity over 12 years of surveillance in the community in Kilifi, Kenya. This study sought to investigate whether there was a corresponding reduction in P. falciparum genetic diversity, using msp2 as a genetic marker. METHODS: Blood samples were obtained from children (< 15 years) enrolled into a cohort with active weekly surveillance between 2007 and 2018 in Kilifi, Kenya. Asymptomatic infections were defined during the annual cross-sectional blood survey and the first-febrile malaria episode was detected during the weekly follow-up. Parasite DNA was extracted and successfully genotyped using allele-specific nested polymerase chain reactions for msp2 and capillary electrophoresis fragment analysis. RESULTS: Based on cross-sectional surveys conducted in 2007-2018, there was a significant reduction in malaria prevalence (16.2-5.5%: P-value < 0.001), however msp2 genetic diversity remained high. A high heterozygosity index (He) (> 0.95) was observed in both asymptomatic infections and febrile malaria over time. About 281 (68.5%) asymptomatic infections were polyclonal (> 2 variants per infection) compared to 46 (56%) polyclonal first-febrile infections. There was significant difference in complexity of infection (COI) between asymptomatic 2.3 [95% confidence interval (CI) 2.2-2.5] and febrile infections 2.0 (95% CI 1.7-2.3) (P = 0.016). Majority of asymptomatic infections (44.2%) carried mixed alleles (i.e., both FC27 and IC/3D7), while FC27 alleles were more frequent (53.3%) among the first-febrile infections. CONCLUSIONS: Plasmodium falciparum infections in Kilifi are still highly diverse and polyclonal, despite the reduction in malaria transmission in the community.