Malaria infection during pregnancy has negative health consequences for both mothers and offspring. Sub-microscopic malaria infection during pregnancy is common in most African countries. We sought to identify factors associated with sub-microscopic placental malaria, and its association with adverse pregnancy outcomes among HIV-negative pregnant women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
We recruited a cohort of pregnant women during their first trimester and assessed for the occurrence of placental malaria and pregnancy outcomes. The follow-up was done monthly from recruitment until delivery. Histopathology placental malaria positive results were defined as the presence of malaria pigment or parasitized erythrocytes on the slide (histology-positive (HP)), and the sub-microscopic placental infection was defined as positive Plasmodium falciparum DNA by polymerase chain reaction (DNA PCR) amplification in a negative histopathology test. Adverse pregnancy outcomes investigated included low birth weight (birth weight below 2.5 kg), prematurity (live birth below 37 weeks), and small-for-gestational-age (SGA) (live born with a birth weight below 10th percentile for gestational age and sex). Weighted baseline category logit, log-binomial, and log-Poisson models were used to assess factors associated with placental malaria, and its association with adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Among 1115 women who had histopathology and DNA PCR performed, 93 (8%) had HP placental infection, and 136 (12%) had the sub-microscopic placental infection. The risk of sub-microscopic placental malaria was greater in women who did not use mosquito prevention methods such as bed nets, fumigation, or mosquito coils (odds ratio (OR) = 1.75; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.05-2.92; P = 0.03) and in women who were anemic (OR = 1.59; 95% CI: 1.20-2.11; P = 0.001). Women who were underweight had reduced odds of sub-microscopic placental malaria infection (OR = 0.33; 95% CI: 0.17-0.62; P = 0.001). Women who were overweight/obese had 1.48 times higher the odds of HP placental malaria compared to normal weight (OR = 1.48; 95% CI: 1.03-2.11; P = 0.03). HP placental malaria infection was associated with an increased risk of SGA births (RR = 1.30, 95% CI: 0.98-1.72, P = 0.07). In contrast, the sub-microscopic infection was associated with a reduced risk of SGA births (RR = 0.61, 95% CI: 0.43-0.88, P = 0.01). Placental malaria was not associated with low birth weight or prematurity.
Malaria prevention methods and maternal nutrition status during early pregnancy were important predictors of sub-microscopic placental malaria. More research is needed to understand sub-microscopic placental malaria and the possible mechanisms mediating the association between placental malaria and SGA.