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Persistence of Plasmodium falciparum Parasites in Infected Pregnant Mozambican Women after Delivery

Serra-Casas, Elisa, Menéndez, Clara, Dobaño, Carlota, Bardají, Azucena, Quintó, Llorençc, Ordi, Jaume, Sigauque, Betuel, Cisteró, Pau, Mandomando, Inacio, Alonso, Pedro L., Mayor, Alfredo
Infection and immunity 2011 v.79 no.1 pp. 298-304
Plasmodium falciparum, confidence interval, erythrocytes, genes, genotype, malaria, merozoites, microscopy, odds ratio, parasites, placenta, postpartum period, pregnancy, pregnant women, progeny, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, risk, surface proteins
Pregnant women are susceptible to Plasmodium falciparum parasites that sequester in the placenta. The massive accumulation of infected erythrocytes in the placenta has been suggested to trigger the deleterious effects of malaria in pregnant women and their offspring. The risk of malaria is also high during the postpartum period, although mechanisms underlying this susceptibility are not known. Here, we aimed to identify host factors contributing to the risk of postpartum infections and to determine the origin of postpartum parasites by comparing their genotypes with those present at the time of delivery. To address this, blood samples were collected at delivery (n = 402) and postpartum (n = 354) from Mozambican women enrolled in a trial of intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp). P. falciparum was detected by real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR), and the parasite merozoite surface protein 1 (msp-1) and msp-2 genes were genotyped. Fifty-seven out of 354 (16%) women were infected postpartum as assessed by qPCR, whereas prevalence by optical microscopy was only 4%. Risk of postpartum infection was lower in older women (odds ratio [OR] = 0.34, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.15 to 0.81) and higher in women with a placental infection at delivery (OR = 4.20, 95% CI = 2.19 to 8.08). Among 24 women with matched infections, 12 (50%) were infected postpartum with at least one parasite strain that was also present in their placentas. These results suggest that parasites infecting pregnant women persist after delivery and increase the risk of malaria during the postpartum period. Interventions that reduce malaria during pregnancy may translate into a lower risk of postpartum infection.