Background: Treatment of asymptomatic individuals, regardless of their malaria infection status, with regularly spaced therapeutic doses of antimalarial drugs has been proposed as a method for reducing malaria morbidity and mortality. This strategy, called intermittent preventive treatment (IPT), is currently employed for pregnant women and is being studied for infants (IPTi) as well. As with any drug-based intervention strategy, it is important to understand how implementation may affect the spread of drug-resistant parasites. This is a difficult issue to address experimentally because of the limited size and duration of IPTi trials as well as the intractability of distinguishing the spread of resistance due to conventional treatment of malaria episodes versus that due to IPTi when the same drug is used in both contexts.
Methods and findings: Using a mathematical model, we evaluated the possible impact of treating individuals with antimalarial drugs at regular intervals regardless of their infection status. We translated individual treatment strategies and drug pharmacokinetics into parasite population dynamic effects and show that immunity, treatment rate, drug decay kinetics, and presumptive treatment rate are important factors in the spread of drug-resistant parasites. Our model predicts that partially resistant parasites are more likely to spread in low-transmission areas, but fully resistant parasites are more likely to spread under conditions of high transmission, which is consistent with some epidemiological observations. We were also able to distinguish between spread of resistance due to treatment of symptomatic infections and that due to IPTi. We showed that IPTi could accelerate the spread of resistant parasites, but this effect was only likely to be significant in areas of low or unstable transmission.
Conclusions: The results presented here demonstrate the importance of considering both the half-life of a drug and the existing level of resistance when choosing a drug for IPTi. Drugs to which little or no resistance exists are not advisable for IPT in high-transmission areas, but IPTi is not likely to significantly impact the spread of highly resistant parasites in areas where partial resistance is already established. IPTi is more likely to accelerate the spread of resistance in high-transmission areas than is IPT in adults (i.e., pregnant women).