Clonal Outbreak of Plasmodium falciparum Infection in Eastern Panama

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Identifying the source of resurgent parasites is paramount to a strategic, successful intervention for malaria elimination. Although the malaria incidence in Panama is low, a recent outbreak resulted in a 6-fold increase in reported cases. We hypothesized that parasites sampled from this epidemic might be related and exhibit a clonal population structure. We tested the genetic relatedness of parasites, using informative single-nucleotide polymorphisms and drug resistance loci. We found that parasites were clustered into 3 clonal subpopulations and were related to parasites from Colombia. Two clusters of Panamanian parasites shared identical drug resistance haplotypes, and all clusters shared a chloroquine-resistance genotype matching the pfcrt haplotype of Colombian origin. Our findings suggest these resurgent parasite populations are highly clonal and that the high clonality likely resulted from epidemic expansion of imported or vestigial cases. Malaria outbreak investigations that use genetic tools can illuminate potential sources of epidemic malaria and guide strategies to prevent further resurgence in areas where malaria has been eliminated.

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