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