Evidence for an Age-Dependent Pyrogenic Threshold of Plasmodium falciparum Parasitemia in Highly Endemic Populations

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  • Institut Pasteur de Dakar, Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale (INSERM), Unite 330, Universite de Bordeaux II, Institut Francais de Recherche Scientifique pour le Developpement en Cooperation (ORSTOM), Dakar, Senegal

The high prevalence of asymptomatic malaria infections and the nonspecific signs and symptoms of the disease make the individual diagnosis of clinical malaria uncertain in highly endemic areas. Longitudinal data obtained during a four-month period from a daily survey of 200 permanent inhabitants (one month-83 years old) living in a holoendemic area were analyzed in a random-effects logistic regression model to investigate the relationship between the level of Plasmodium falciparum parasitemia and risk of fever. It was not possible to build a model that described/summarized correctly this relationship by a continuous function. Findings provide evidence for an age-dependent threshold effect of parasitemia on the occurrence of fever. The level of this threshold varied by 2.45 trophozoites per leukocyte, maximum at one year of age, to 0.5 trophozoites per leukocyte, minimum at 60 years of age. When the parasite density of a person crossed the threshold level corresponding to his or her age, the individual's risk of fever was multiplied by 44 (95% confidence interval = 13.6–144.8). The existence of this threshold effect allows parasite density to be used to distinguish malaria attacks from other causes of fever within an individual and should facilitate the accurate evaluation of the incidence of clinical malaria in highly endemic areas.