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Gametocyte carriage in Plasmodium falciparum-infected travellers

Catherine H Roberts1, Margaret Armstrong1, Ewa Zatyka1, Samuel Boadi2, Simon Warren1, Peter L Chiodini123, Colin J Sutherland23 and Tom Doherty1*

Author Affiliations

1 Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Mortimer Market Centre, Capper Street, London, WC1E 6JB, UK

2 Department of Clinical Parasitology, Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Mortimer Market Centre, Capper Street, London, WC1E 6JB, UK

3 Faculty of Infectious & Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, UK

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Malaria Journal 2013, 12:31  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-31

Published: 24 January 2013



Gametocytes are the sexual stage of Plasmodium parasites. The determinants of gametocyte carriage have been studied extensively in endemic areas, but have rarely been explored in travellers with malaria. The incidence of gametocytaemia, and factors associated with gametocyte emergence in adult travellers with Plasmodium falciparum malaria was investigated at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London.


Clinical, parasitological and demographic data for all patients presenting with P. falciparum malaria between January 2001 and December 2011 were extracted from a prospective database. These data were supplemented by manual searches of laboratory records and patient case notes.


Seven hundred and seventy three adult patients with laboratory-confirmed P. falciparum malaria were identified. Four hundred and sixty five (60%) were born in a country where malaria is endemic. Patients presented to hospital a median of four days into their illness. The median maximum parasite count was 0.4%. One hundred and ninety six patients (25%) had gametocytes; 94 (12%) on admission, and 102 (13%) developing during treatment. Gametocytaemia on admission was associated with anaemia and a lower maximum parasitaemia. Patients with gametocytes at presentation were less likely to have thrombocytopenia or severe malaria. Patients who developed gametocytes during treatment were more likely to have had parasitaemia of long duration, a high maximum parasitaemia and to have had severe malaria. There was no apparent association between the appearance of gametocytes and treatment regimen.


The development of gametocytaemia in travellers with P. falciparum is associated with factors similar to those reported among populations in endemic areas. These data suggest that acquired immunity to malaria is not the only determinant of patterns of gametocyte carriage among patients with the disease.

Falciparum malaria; Gametocytes; Adult travellers