BACKGROUND: Plasmodium falciparum malaria is a significant public health problem in returning travelers, and artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) remains the first choice for treatment. Several single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the P. falciparum kelch 13 (Pfk13) gene have been associated with artemisinin (ART) resistance. Moreover, the increase in the P. falciparum plasmepsin 2 (Pfpm2) gene copy number was shown to be linked with reduced susceptibility of P. falciparum to piperaquine (PPQ), a partner drug in an ACT regimen. Active molecular surveillance for imported drug-resistant malaria parasites is a pivotal activity to provide adequate chemoprophylaxis and treatment guidelines.
METHODS: A retrospective study to review imported P. falciparum malaria in patients admitted to Spallanzani Institute between 2014 and 2015 was conducted. Information collected included clinic and epidemiological characteristics such as age, gender, country of origin, time since arrival to our country, travel history. All P.falciparum isolates were analyzed for SNPs in the Pfk13 gene and for copy number variations in the Pfpm2 gene.
RESULTS: P. falciparum malaria was identified in 54 travelers. The mean age was 37 years, 44 were males. All cases were imported from non-EU countries. In the Pfk13 gene two mutations (R561R and F673L) were detected. Six P. falciparum isolates carried two copies of Pfpm2 gene, and one three copies, representing ≈16% of the analyzed isolates.
CONCLUSIONS: None of the SNPs known to be associated with ART resistance were detected in the examined parasites. Our results provide evidence that Pfpm2 duplications (associated with piperaquine resistance) occur in Africa, emphasizing the necessity to better decode the genetic background associated with PPQ resistance. Further epidemiological investigations in Pfpm2 amplification along with mutations in the Pfk13 gene will be useful for developing and updating anti-malarial guidance in travelers.