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Background

At present, the main risk of transfusion-transmitted malaria (TTM) in nonendemic countries is chronic, asymptomatic immigrants from malaria-endemic areas. Semi-immune donors may carry undetected parasitemia. This study examines Plasmodium infection in at-risk blood donors in Northern Italy.

Study Design and Methods

Plasma samples from 97 candidate donors and 80 controls were tested for malarial antibodies using a commercial enzyme immunoassay. The conserved 18S rRNA and the mitochondrial genes of Plasmodium were amplified to detect and quantify parasite genomes (copies/mL). Plasmodium species were identified with a species-specific nested polymerase chain reaction. Parasitemic samples were further tested by amplification of polymorphic repetitive regions in MSP-1 Block 2, MSP-2 Block 3, and glutamate-rich protein (GLURP) confirmed by sequencing.

Results

Three of 83 seropositive (3.6%) and one of 14 seronegative at-risk candidate donors carried Plasmodium genome (4 × 103-8.5 × 104 copies/mL): two P. falciparum, one P. malariae (seronegative sample), and one coinfection with P. malariae and P. ovale. Alleles of MSP-1 (MAD20 and K1), MSP-2 (3D7 and FC27), and GLURP were amplified from Sample 261. In Sample 282 only one allele in MSP-2 (FC27) and GLURP was amplified. No alleles were detected in Samples 283 and 331.

Conclusions

Immigrants from endemic countries might carry infectious Plasmodium after 2 to 5 years of continuous residence in Italy. Serologic screening may miss donors carrying P. malariae. Permanent exclusion or screening for both antibodies and genome are needed to prevent TTM.