Challenging diagnosis of congenital malaria in non-endemic areas

Lorenza Romani, Stefania Pane, Carlo Severini, Michela Menegon, Gianluca Foglietta, Stefania Bernardi, Hyppolite K Tchidjou, Andrea Onetti Muda, Paolo Palma, Lorenza Putignani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Congenital malaria is usually defined as the detection of asexual forms of Plasmodium spp. in a blood sample of a neonate during perinatal age if there is no possibility of postpartum infection by a mosquito bite. The incidence of congenital malaria is highly variable and seems related to several factors, such as different diagnostic methods for Plasmodium spp. detection, and area in which the epidemiologic analyses are performed. In non-endemic countries, cases of congenital malaria are rare. Hereby, a case of a congenital malaria in an HIV exposed child is reported.

CASE PRESENTATION: A 2-month-old male child was admitted to Bambino Gesù Children's Hospital due to anaemia and exposure to HIV. He was born prematurely in Italy by cesarean section at 34 weeks' gestation after a bicorial, biamniotic pregnancy by a migrant woman from Nigeria. He was the first of non-identical twins. Combined with anaemia, spleen and liver enlargement was noted, malaria was hypothesized. Malaria laboratory panel was performed on the newborn, mother and other twin blood samples, as follows: (i) malaria rapid diagnostic test (RDT); (ii) Giemsa-stained thick and thin blood smears for Plasmodium spp. identification and parasitaemia titration; (iii) molecular screening and typing of Plasmodium spp. by multiplex qualitative PCR assay based on 18S rRNA gene. Genotyping of Plasmodium falciparum isolates from mother and child was performed by neutral microsatellite and highly polymorphic marker amplification.

CONCLUSIONS: The maternal RDT sample was negative, while the infant RDT was positive; in both cases microscopy of blood smears and PCR showed infection with P. falciparum. Two of the genotypic molecular markers displayed different allelic variants between the two samples. This difference could imply infection multiplicity of the mother during the pregnancy, possibly harbouring more than one isolate, only one of them being transmitted to the newborn while the other persisting in the mother's blood. Because of the increasing number of pregnant women coming from endemic areas for malaria, an accurate anamnesis of infant's mother, and the inclusion of Plasmodium spp. research into TORCH screenings for mother-infant pair at birth, aiming at reducing morbidity and mortality associated to the disease might be suitable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470
Number of pages12
JournalMalaria Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 14 2018


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