Asymptomatic malaria parasites are significant sources of infections for onward malaria transmission. Conventional tools for malaria diagnosis such as microscopy and rapid diagnostic test kits (RDT) have relatively low sensitivity, hence the need for alternative tools for active screening of such low-density infections.
This study tested var acidic terminal sequence-based (varATS) quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) for screening asymptomatic Plasmodium falciparum infections among dwellers of a sub-urban community in Lagos, Nigeria. Clinically healthy participants were screened for malaria using microscopy, RDT and varATS qPCR techniques. Participants were stratified into three age groups: 1-5, 6-14 and > 14 years old.
Of the 316 participants screened for asymptomatic malaria infection, 78 (24.68%) were positive by microscopy, 99 (31.33%) were positive by RDT and 112 (35.44%) by varATS qPCR. Participants aged 6-14 years had the highest prevalence of asymptomatic malaria, with geometric means of ~ 116 parasites/µL and ~ 6689 parasites/µL as detected by microscopy and varATS, respectively.
This study has revealed high prevalence of asymptomatic malaria in the study population, with varATS detecting additional sub-microscopic infections. The highest concentration of asymptomatic malaria was observed among school-age children between 6 and 14 years old. A large-scale screening to identify other potential hotspots of asymptomatic parasites in the country is recommended.