Background: Malaysia has declared its aim to eliminate malaria with a goal of achieving zero local transmission by the year 2020. However, targeting the human reservoir of infection, including those with asymptomatic infection is required to achieve malaria elimination. Diagnosing asymptomatic malaria is not as straightforward due to the obvious lack of clinical manifestations and often subpatent level of parasites. Accurate diagnosis of malaria is important for providing realistic estimates of malaria burden and preventing misinformed interventions. Low levels of parasitaemia acts as silent reservoir of transmission thus remains infectious to susceptible mosquito vectors. Hence, the aim of this study is to investigate the prevalence of asymptomatic submicroscopic malaria (SMM) in the District of Belaga, Sarawak. Methods: In 2013, a total of 1744 dried blood spots (DBS) were obtained from residents of 8 longhouses who appeared healthy. Subsequently, 251 venous blood samples were collected from residents of 2 localities in 2014 based on the highest number of submicroscopic cases from prior findings. Thin and thick blood films were prepared from blood obtained from all participants in this study. Microscopic examination were carried out on all samples and a nested and nested multiplex PCR were performed on samples collected in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Results: No malaria parasites were detected in all the Giemsa-stained blood films. However, of the 1744 samples, 29 (1.7%) were positive for Plasmodium vivax by PCR. Additionally, of the 251 samples, the most prevalent mono-infection detected by PCR was Plasmodium falciparum 50 (20%), followed by P. vivax 39 (16%), P. knowlesi 9 (4%), and mixed infections 20 (8%). Conclusions: This research findings conclude evidence of Plasmodium by PCR, among samples previously undetectable by routine blood film microscopic examination, in local ethnic minority who are clinically healthy. SMM in Belaga district is attributed not only to P. vivax, but also to P. falciparum and P. knowlesi. In complementing efforts of programme managers, there is a need to increase surveillance for SMM nationwide to estimate the degree of SMM that warrant measures to block new transmission of malaria.
Jiram, A. I., Ooi, C. H., Rubio, J. M., Hisam, S., Karnan, G., Sukor, N. M., … Alias, N. W. (2019). Evidence of asymptomatic submicroscopic malaria in low transmission areas in Belaga district, Kapit division, Sarawak, Malaysia. Malaria Journal, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12936-019-2786-y