High prevalence of Plasmodium malariae and Plasmodium ovale in malaria patients along the Thai-Myanmar border, as revealed by acridine orange staining and PCR-based diagnoses

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The prevalence of the four human malaria parasites was investigated among malaria patients at northern, central and southern towns in Thailand along the border with Myanmar between September 1995 and May 1996. Thin smears obtained from 548 Thai and Burmese patients were reviewed by an acridine orange staining method, and many mixed infections with two to four species, including P. malariae and P. ovale, were detected. These diagnostic results were compared with those by two PCR-based diagnoses, microtitre plate hybridization (MPH) and a nested PCR method, both of which targets the same, species-specific regions in the 18S rRNA genes. In both PCR diagnoses, many P. malariae and P. ovale infections were also detected. Detection sensitivity of P. malariae infection was higher in nested PCR than MPH, and a total prevalence of P. malariae infection estimated by nested PCR reached 24.3% (133/548). In 16 of them, the size of PCR products amplified by the P. malariae-specific primer was about 20-bp shorter than the expected size of 115-bp. Four of 16 possessed two different bands with normal and shorter sizes, suggesting that P. malariae isolates may be separated into two types, and that those with shorter products may be new variant form (s) with a nucleotide deletion in the target region. On the other hand, 21 P. ovale infections (3.8%) were detected by nested PCR, but four of them were MPH-negative because of the sequence variation at the probe region. These results indicated that the prevalence of P. malariae and P. ovale along the Thai-Myanmar border may be substantially higher than previously reported.

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