Accurate information regarding malaria prevalence at national level is required to design and assess malaria control/elimination efforts. Although many comparisons of microscopy and polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based methods have been conducted, there is little published literature covering such comparisons in southeast Asia especially at the national level. Both microscopic examination and PCR detection were performed on blood films and dried blood spots samples collected from 8,067 individuals enrolled in a nationwide, stratified, multistage, cluster sampling malaria prevalence survey conducted in Cambodia in 2007. The overall malaria prevalence and prevalence rates of Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, and Plasmodium malariae infections estimated by microscopy (N = 8,067) were 2.74% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.39-3.12%), 1.81% (95% CI: 1.53-2.13%), 1.14% (95% CI: 0.92-1.40%), and 0.01% (95% CI: 0.003-0.07%), respectively. The overall malaria prevalence based on PCR detection (N = 7,718) was almost 2.5-fold higher (6.31%, 95% CI: 5.76-6.89%, P < 0.00001). This difference was significantly more pronounced for P. falciparum (4.40%, 95% CI: 3.95-4.90%, P < 0.00001) compared with P. vivax (1.89%, 95% CI: 1.60-2.22%, P < 0.001) and P. malariae infections (0.22%, 95% CI: 0.13-0.35%, P < 0.0001). The significant proportion of microscopy-negative but PCR-positive individuals (289/7,491, 3.85%) suggest microscopic examination frequently underestimated malaria infections and that active case detection based on microscopy may miss a significant reservoir of infection, especially in low-transmission settings.
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