Background: Co-infection with malaria and intestinal parasites such as Ascaris lumbricoides is common. Malaria parasites induce a pro-inflammatory immune response that contributes to the pathogenic sequelae, such as malarial anaemia, that occur in malaria infection. Ascaris is known to create an anti-inflammatory immune environment which could, in theory, counteract the anti-malarial inflammatory immune response, minimizing the severity of malarial anaemia. This study examined whether Ascaris co-infection can minimize the severity of malarial anaemia.
Methods: Data from a randomized controlled trial on the effect of antihelminthic treatment in Nigerian preschool-aged (6-59 months) children conducted in 2006-2007 were analysed to examine the effect of malaria and Ascaris co-infection on anaemia severity. Children were enrolled and tested for malaria, helminths and anaemia at baseline, four, and eight months. Six hundred and ninety subjects were analysed in this study. Generalized linear mixed models were used to assess the relationship between infection status and Ascaris and Plasmodium parasite intensity on severity of anaemia, defined as a haemoglobin less than 11 g/dL.
Results: Malaria prevalence ranged from 35-78% over the course of this study. Of the malaria-infected children, 55% were co-infected with Ascaris at baseline, 60% were co-infected four months later and 48% were co-infected eight months later, underlining the persistent prevalence of malaria-nematode co-infections in this population. Over the course of the study the percentage of anaemic subjects in the population ranged between 84% at baseline and 77% at the eight-month time point. The odds of being anaemic were four to five times higher in children infected with malaria compared to those without malaria. Ascaris infection alone did not increase the odds of being anaemic, indicating that malaria was the main cause of anaemia in this population. There was no significant difference in the severity of anaemia between children singly infected with malaria and co-infected with malaria and Ascaris.
Conclusion: In this cohort of Nigerian preschool children, malaria infection was the major contributor to anaemia status. Ascaris co-infection neither exacerbated nor ameliorated the severity of malarial anaemia.