Antigenic diversity and the transmission dynamics of Plasmodium falciparum

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Science  18 Feb 1994:
Vol. 263, Issue 5149, pp. 961-963
DOI: 10.1126/science.8310293


The average age of humans at their first infection with Plasmodium falciparum is typically less than 1 year in most endemic areas. This has been interpreted as evidence of the high transmissibility of the parasite, with the implication that control of malaria will require high levels of coverage with a potential vaccine. This interpretation is challenged by mathematical models that demonstrate that the long period required to develop immunity to malaria permits a high risk (or low average age) of infection even when parasite transmissibility is low. Patterns of seroconversion to five antigenically distinct isolates of P. falciparum in a highly malarious area of Papua New Guinea indicate that each is only mildly transmissible and that malaria, as a construct of several such independently transmitted strains, has a basic reproductive rate (or transmissibility) that is an order of magnitude lower than other estimates.

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