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Despite international recommendations to use malaria treatment and prevention in pregnant women in malaria-endemic areas, few studies have evaluated the efficacy of available antimalarial regimens. This issue is of particular concern in the face of spreading chloroquine (CQ)-resistance of Plasmodium falciparum in malarious areas of sub-Saharan Africa. In a prospective trial in rural Malawian pregnant women, we examined three regimens using CQ (including the existing national policy regimen) and one regimen using mefloquine (MQ). The efficacy of the regimens was determined by comparing rates of clearance of initial parasitemia; prevention of breakthrough infection; and parasitemia at delivery in maternal peripheral blood, placental blood, and in infant umbilical cord blood. Among 1,528 parasitemic women at enrollment, 281 (18.4%) had persistent infections; and among 1,852 initially aparasitemic women, 320 (17.3%) had breakthrough parasitemia on one or more follow-up visits. Compared with women on MQ, women on a CQ regimen were at significantly greater risk of persistent and breakthrough infection (odds ratios [OR] = 30.9 and 11.1, respectively, P < 10−6). Other significant risk factors for persistent and breakthrough infections in a multivariate model included first pregnancy; enrollment in the rainy or postrainy season; maternal age ≤ 25 years; seropositivity to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (persistent infections only); and no use of antimalarial prophylaxis before enrollment (breakthrough infections only). At delivery, compared with women on MQ, women on a CQ regimen were at significantly greater risk of peripheral, placental, or umbilical cord blood parasitemia (OR = 8.7, 7.4, and 4.1, respectively, P < 10−6). Additional risk factors for parasitemia at delivery in multivariate models included first pregnancy; delivery in the rainy or postrainy season; HIV-seropositivity; and maternal age ≤ 25 years (risk for peripheral and placental blood parasitemia only). Maternal anemia (hematocrit < 30%) at enrollment or at delivery was not associated with persistent or breakthrough parasitemia or parasitemia at delivery in these multivariate models. While factors leading to increased malaria parasite exposure (high transmission seasons) and lowered or altered host immune response (low pregnancy number, young age, and HIV infection) are important risk factors for malaria in pregnant women, the use of an ineffective intervention (CQ in a setting with CQ-resistant parasites) was the most important determinant of P. falciparum parasitemia in these pregnant women. Strategies to reduce the impact of malaria in pregnant women must use efficacious interventions and may need to consider targeting the intervention to the most susceptible women during the seasons of high malaria exposure.
Authors’ addresses: Richard W. Steketee, Epidemiology Branch, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop E-45, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333. Jack J. Wirima and Charles O. Khoromana (deceased), Ministry of Health, and College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi. Laurence Slutsker, Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop A-38, Atlanta, GA 30333. Jacqueline M. Roberts, Division of Parasitic Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333. David L. Heymann, Emerging and Other Communicable Diseases Programme, World Health Organization, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Joel G. Breman, Division of International Taining and Research, Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, Building 31, Room B2C 39, Bethesda, MD 20892-2220.