Prevalence & risk factors for asymptomatic malaria & genotyping of G6PD in vivax-predominant setting, Lao: implications for sub-national elimination goals

01 Jun 2018
Lover AA, Dantzer E, Hongvanthong B, Chindavongsa K, Welty S, Reza T, Khim N, Menard D, Bennett A


Lao People Democratic Republic (PDR; Laos), a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, has made important progress in reducing malaria morbidity and mortality in the past 5-6 years, and the northern provinces have very low reported incidence. To support national progress towards elimination, it is critical to verify and understand these changes in disease burden.


A two-stage cluster cross-sectional survey was conducted in four districts within four northern provinces (Khua, Phongsaly Province; Paktha, Bokeo Province; Nambak, Luang Prabang, and Muang Et, Huaphanh Province). During September and October 2016, demographics and malaria risk factors were collected from a total of 1492 households. A total of 5085 persons consented to collection of blood samples for testing, by rapid diagnostic test (RDT) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based testing. Risk factors for infection were examined using logistic regression; and a randomized subset of males was tested for glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiencies using a combined PCR and sequencing approach.


There were zero positives by RDT, and PCR detected Plasmodium infections in 39 (0.77%; 95% CI 0.40-1.47%) of 5082 analysable samples. The species distribution was Plasmodium vivax (28 total); Plasmodium falciparum/P. vivax (5); P. falciparum (3), Plasmodium malariae (2), and P. vivax/P. malariae (1). In multivariable analysis, the main risk factors included having any other cases within the household [aOR 12.83 (95% CI 4.40 to 37.38), p < 0.001]; and lack of bed net ownership within the household [aOR 10.91 (95% 5.42-21.94), p < 0.001]; age, sex and forest-travel were not associated with parasitaemia. A total of 910 males were tested for the six most common G6PDd in SE Asia; and 30 (3.3%; 95% CI 2.1-5.1%) had a G6PD variant allele associated with G6PD deficiency, with the majority being the Union (14) and Viangchan (11) polymorphisms, with smaller numbers of Canton and Mahidol.


This is the first rigorous PCR-based population survey for malaria infection in Northern Lao PDR, and found a very low prevalence of asymptomatic Plasmodium infections by standard PCR methods, with P. vivax predominating in the surveyed districts. Clustering of cases within households, and lack of a bed nets suggest reactive case detection, and scale-up of coverage should be prioritized. The predominance of infections with P. vivax, combined with moderate levels of serious G6PD deficiencies highlight the need for careful rollout of primaquine towards elimination goals.