Background. The A581G mutation in the gene encoding Plasmodium falciparum dihydropteroate synthase (dhps), in combination with the quintuple mutant involving mutations in both dhps and the gene encoding dihydrofolate reductase (dhfr), the so-called sextuple mutant, has been associated with increased placental inflammation and decreased infant birth weight among women receiving intermittent preventive treatment with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (IPTp-SP) during pregnancy.
Methods. Between 2009 and 2011, delivering women without human immunodeficiency virus infection were enrolled in an observational study of IPTp-SP effectiveness in Malawi. Parasites were detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR); positive samples were sequenced to genotype the dhfr and dhps loci. The presence of K540E in dhps was used as a marker for the quintuple mutant.
Results. Samples from 1809 women were analyzed by PCR; 220 (12%) were positive for P. falciparum. A total of 202 specimens were genotyped at codon 581 of dhps; 17 (8.4%) harbored the sextuple mutant. The sextuple mutant was associated with higher risks of patent infection in peripheral blood (adjusted prevalence ratio [aPR], 2.76; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.82–4.18) and placental blood (aPR 3.28; 95% CI, 1.88–5.78) and higher parasite densities. Recent SP use was not associated with increased parasite densities or placental pathology overall and among women with parasites carrying dhps A581G.
Conclusions. IPTp-SP failed to inhibit parasite growth but did not exacerbate pathology among women infected with sextuple-mutant parasites. New interventions to prevent malaria during pregnancy are needed urgently.