Study tracks asymptomatic malaria cases

Researchers took a new approach to study malaria infections in northeastern Uganda.

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A study published Jan. 4 in The Lancet Microbe set out to better understand the spread of asymptomatic malaria cases around Katakwi, Uganda, a region known for high infection rates. Researchers asked participants to collect their own dried blood spot samples every day for a month.

“What we thought was that in many studies where they just get one sample, one time, per person, this might not describe how many people were infected — and it certainly doesn't say what happened the day before or the day after,” said Dr. Sean Murphy, a UW Medicine physician-scientist in laboratory medicine and pathology.

About half of the approximately 130 participants had malaria at some point during the one-month study span, he said. 

Malaria can be hard to detect when symptoms are not present, even with sophisticated diagnostics, because levels of the parasite fluctuate in people and can fall below detection limits.

The study concluded that testing more frequently was important to obtaining more reliable results in future epidemiological studies and clinical trials. 

Learn more about the study’s findings in a news release.

Download broadcast-ready soundbites featuring Murphy and Ugandan-born researcher Tonny Owalla discussing asymptomatic malaria.

UW Medicine