Population heterogeneity in Plasmodium vivax relapse risk

Published: December 19, 2022


Stadler E, Cromer D, Mehra S, Adekunle AI, Flegg JA, Anstey NM, Watson JA, Chu CS, Mueller I, Robinson LJ, Schlub TE, Davenport MP, Khoury DS. Population heterogeneity in Plasmodium vivax relapse risk. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2022 Dec 19;16(12):e0010990. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0010990. PMID: 36534705; PMCID: PMC9810152.


A key characteristic of Plasmodium vivax parasites is their ability to adopt a latent liver-stage form called hypnozoites, able to cause relapse of infection months or years after a primary infection. Relapses of infection through hypnozoite activation are a major contributor to blood-stage infections in P vivax endemic regions and are thought to be influenced by factors such as febrile infections which may cause temporary changes in hypnozoite activation leading to ‘temporal heterogeneity’ in reactivation risk. In addition, immunity and variation in exposure to infection may be longer-term characteristics of individuals that lead to ‘population heterogeneity’ in hypnozoite activation. We analyze data on risk of P vivax in two previously published data sets from Papua New Guinea and the Thailand-Myanmar border region. Modeling different mechanisms of reactivation risk, we find strong evidence for population heterogeneity, with 30% of patients having almost 70% of all P vivax infections. Model fitting and data analysis indicates that individual variation in relapse risk is a primary source of heterogeneity of P vivax risk of recurrences.