Published: March 4, 2023
Sandfort M, Monteiro W, Lacerda M, Nguitragool W, Sattabongkot J, Waltmann A, Salje H, Vantaux A, Witkowski B, Robinson LJ, Mueller I, White M. The spatial signature of Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum infections: quantifying the clustering of infections in cross-sectional surveys and cohort studies. Malar J. 2023 Mar 4;22(1):75. doi: 10.1186/s12936-023-04515-4. PMID: 36870976; PMCID: PMC9985228.
Background: Over the last decades, enormous successes have been achieved in reducing malaria burden globally. In Latin America, South East Asia, and the Western Pacific, many countries now pursue the goal of malaria elimination by 2030. It is widely acknowledged that Plasmodium spp. infections cluster spatially so that interventions need to be spatially informed, e.g. spatially targeted reactive case detection strategies. Here, the spatial signature method is introduced as a tool to quantify the distance around an index infection within which other infections significantly cluster.
Methods: Data were considered from cross-sectional surveys from Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia, and Solomon Islands, conducted between 2012 and 2018. Household locations were recorded by GPS and finger-prick blood samples from participants were tested for Plasmodium infection by PCR. Cohort studies from Brazil and Thailand with monthly sampling over a year from 2013 until 2014 were also included. The prevalence of PCR-confirmed infections was calculated at increasing distance around index infections (and growing time intervals in the cohort studies). Statistical significance was defined as prevalence outside of a 95%-quantile interval of a bootstrap null distribution after random re-allocation of locations of infections.
Results: Prevalence of Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum infections was elevated in close proximity around index infections and decreased with distance in most study sites, e.g. from 21.3% at 0 km to the global study prevalence of 6.4% for P. vivax in the Cambodian survey. In the cohort studies, the clustering decreased with longer time windows. The distance from index infections to a 50% reduction of prevalence ranged from 25 m to 3175 m, tending to shorter distances at lower global study prevalence.
Conclusions: The spatial signatures of P. vivax and P. falciparum infections demonstrate spatial clustering across a diverse set of study sites, quantifying the distance within which the clustering occurs. The method offers a novel tool in malaria epidemiology, potentially informing reactive intervention strategies regarding radius choices of operations around detected infections and thus strengthening malaria elimination endeavours.