Genotyping cognate Plasmodium falciparum in humans and mosquitoes to estimate onward transmission of asymptomatic infections

Sumner KM, Freedman E, Abel L, Obala A, Pence BW, Wesolowski A, Meshnick SR, Prudhomme-O'Meara W, Taylor SM


Malaria control may be enhanced by targeting reservoirs of Plasmodium falciparum transmission. One putative reservoir is asymptomatic malaria infections and the scale of their contribution to transmission in natural settings is not known. We assess the contribution of asymptomatic malaria to onward transmission using a 14-month longitudinal cohort of 239 participants in a high transmission site in Western Kenya. We identify P. falciparum in asymptomatically- and symptomatically-infected participants and naturally-fed mosquitoes from their households, genotype all parasites using deep sequencing of the parasite genes pfama1 and pfcsp, and use haplotypes to infer participant-to-mosquito transmission through a probabilistic model. In 1,242 infections (1,039 in people and 203 in mosquitoes), we observe 229 (pfcsp) and 348 (pfama1) unique parasite haplotypes. Using these to link human and mosquito infections, compared with symptomatic infections, asymptomatic infections more than double the odds of transmission to a mosquito among people with both infection types (Odds Ratio: 2.56; 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.36-4.81) and among all participants (OR 2.66; 95% CI: 2.05-3.47). Overall, 94.6% (95% CI: 93.1-95.8%) of mosquito infections likely resulted from asymptomatic infections. In high transmission areas, asymptomatic infections are the major contributor to mosquito infections and may be targeted as a component of transmission reduction.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.