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Epidemiology: Tracking a hidden source of malaria

Nature Communications

December 5, 2012

Low-level malaria infections that cause minimal disease symptoms may play a more important role in the spread of the disease than was previously thought, according to work published in this week’s Nature Communications. The findings suggest that the screening for asymptomatic malaria carriers may become increasingly important as attempts to eradicate malaria progress.

Lucy Okell and her colleagues identified a relationship between rates of malaria detected by simple blood smear tests, and rates of malaria that could only be detected by more sensitive molecular techniques - so called ‘submicroscopic infections.’ This information, when combined with epidemiological models of malaria transmission, allowed them to calculate that submicroscopic infections likely represent a significant source of infection in areas where malarial disease is less prevalent. The authors propose that malaria control programs should therefore be maintained even in areas where infections can no longer be detected using microscopy.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms2241

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