Master of Science in Clinical Investigation
First Thesis Advisor
Ann Moormann, PhD, MPH
Second Thesis Advisor
Jeffrey Bailey, MD, PhD
Malaria, Children, Liberia, Immunoprofiles, Acute febrile illness
Malaria continues to be a challenging problem in the developing world, and the burden of this life threatening disease continues to be borne by young children living in Sub Saharan Africa. One of the biggest challenges to the prevention and control of this problem lies in accurately diagnosing malaria, and distinguishing it from the many other febrile illnesses which present in children in this age group.
Liberia is a West African country with a high burden of malaria. Very little is known about the presentation of severe malaria in children aged 5 years old and younger in Liberia. We undertook a prospective, hospital -based study of children 5 and under presenting to JKF Medical Center, the national referral hospital, with fever and signs and symptoms consistent with malaria. The aims of our study were to determine: 1) the frequency of confirmed malaria cases, 2) the frequency of non-malaria diagnoses, 3) the prevalence of anti-malarial drug resistance mutations, 4) the presence of other life threatening etiologies of febrile illness such as S. typhii and Dengue virus and 5) immunological profiling associated with severe malaria.
We analyzed clinical and laboratory data from 462 children age 5 and under who presented to the national referral hospital in Monrovia, Liberia with signs and symptoms consistent with malaria over a one year period. Key findings included determining the demographic factors most closely associated with severe malaria in this population (age > 1yr and urban environment) and those that were negatively associated with the development of severe malaria (prior episodes of malaria, use of bednets and use of anti malarial medications prior to presentation). The clinical symptoms most closely associated with severe malaria in this population were found to be headache and vomiting.
We found that 33% of children admitted and treated for severe malaria did not test positive for malaria by rapid diagnostic testing (RDT) or blood smear. These children had a case fatality rate that was 5 times higher than their RDT positive counter parts. Of the RDT negative children, 2 tested positive for salmonella typhii, but were not treated for this pathogen. Upon discharge from the hospital, 11% of children had resolved their symptoms, but had not cleared their malaria parasites.
These findings will help to identify the children who present with true severe malaria in Liberia. They also underscore the need to expand diagnostic capabilities to determine which other types of pathogens cause febrile illness in this population, so that adequate treatment can be extended to these patients.
The immunoprofiles of these children revealed 3 IgM antibodies (AMA-1, CSP and LSA-1) that were associated with the development of severe malaria. These antibodies also appear to be associated with initial infection with malaria. Such data will help to identify antigens could be potential targets for malaria vaccines, and which can play an important role in the development of new malaria diagnostics for this population.
McQuilkin, PA. Characterization of Severe Malaria in Liberian Children 5 Years Old and Younger. (2017). University of Massachusetts Medical School. GSBS Dissertations and Theses. Paper 896. DOI: 10.13028/M2XP4X. https://escholarship.umassmed.edu/gsbs_diss/896
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