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BackgroundMost previous studies support a direct link between total parasite load and the clinical severity of Plasmodium falciparum malaria infections.MethodsWe estimated P. falciparum parasite loads in 3 groups of children with malaria infections of differing severity: (1) children with World Health Organization-defined severe malaria (n = 1544), (2) children admitted with malaria but without features of severity (n = 200), and (3) children in the community with asymptomatic parasitemia (n = 33).ResultsPeripheral parasitemias were highest in those with uncomplicated malaria (geometric mean [GM] parasite count, 111 064/μL; 95% confidence interval, CI, 86 798-141 819/μL), almost 3 times higher than in those with severe malaria (39 588/μL; 34 990-44 791/μL) and >100 times higher than in those with asymptomatic malaria (1092/μL; 523-2280/μL). However, the GM P. falciparum histidine-rich protein 2 (PfHRP2) values (95% CI) increased with severity, being 7 (4-12) ng/mL in asymptomatic malaria, 843 (655-1084) ng/mL in uncomplicated malaria, and 1369 (1244-1506) ng/mL in severe malaria. PfHRP2 concentrations were markedly lower in the subgroup of patients with severe malaria and concomitant invasive bacterial infections of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (GM concentration, 312 ng/mL; 95% CI, 175-557 ng/mL; P < .001) than in those without such infections (1439 ng/mL; 1307-1584; P < .001).ConclusionsThe clinical severity of malaria infections related strongly to the total burden of P. falciparum parasites. A quantitative test for plasma concentrations of PfHRP2 could be useful in identifying children at the greatest clinical risk and identifying critically ill children in whom malaria is not the primary cause.

Original publication





Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America

Publication Date





e2415 - e2423


KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kilifi, Kenya.


Humans, Plasmodium falciparum, Malaria, Falciparum, Protozoan Proteins, Antigens, Protozoan, Child, Kenya, Parasite Load