Background: Submicroscopic malaria parasitaemia is common in both high- and low-endemicity settings, but its clinical consequences are unclear.
Methods: A cohort of 364 children (0.5-10 years of age) and 106 adults was followed from 2011 to 2016 in Tororo District, Uganda using passive surveillance for malaria episodes and active surveillance for parasitaemia. Participants presented every 90 days for routine visits (n = 9075); a subset was followed every 30 days. Participants who presented with fever and a positive blood smear were treated for malaria. At all routine visits microscopy was performed and samples from subjects with a negative blood smear underwent loop-mediated isothermal amplification for detection of plasmodial DNA.
Results: Submicroscopic parasitaemia was common; the proportion of visits with submicroscopic parasitemia was 25.8% in children and 39.2% in adults. For children 0.5-10 years of age, but not adults, having microscopic and submicroscopic parasitaemia at routine visits was significantly associated with both fever (adjusted risk ratios [95% CI], 2.64 [2.16-3.22], 1.67 [1.37-2.03]) and non-febrile illness (aRR [CI], 1.52 [1.30-1.78], 1.26 [1.09-1.47]), compared to not having parasitaemia. After stratifying by age, significant associations were seen between submicroscopic parasitaemia and fever in children aged 2-< 5 and 5-10 years (aRR [CI], 1.42 [1.03-1.98], 2.01 [1.49-2.71]), and submicroscopic parasitaemia and non-febrile illness in children aged 5-10 years (aRR [CI], 1.44 [1.17-1.78]). These associations were maintained after excluding individuals with a malaria episode within the preceding 14 or following 7 days, and after adjusting for household wealth.
Conclusions: Submicroscopic malaria infections were associated with fever and non-febrile illness in Ugandan children. These findings support malaria control strategies that target low-density infections.
Keywords: Clinical tropical medicine; LAMP; Malaria; Molecular epidemiology; Submicroscopic infection.