BACKGROUND: In sub-Saharan Africa, Plasmodium falciparum malaria in pregnancy presents an enormous diagnostic challenge. The epidemiological and clinical relevance of the different types of malaria diagnosis as well as risk factors associated with malaria infection at delivery were investigated. METHOD: In a cross-sectional survey, 306 women reporting for delivery in the Mutenegene maternity clinic, Fako division, South West province, Cameroon were screened for P. falciparum in peripheral blood, placental blood and placental tissue sections by microscopy. Information relating to the use of intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy with sulphadoxine/pyrimethamine, history of fever attack, infant birth weights and maternal anaemia were recorded. RESULTS: Among these women, P. falciparum infection was detected in 5.6%, 25.5% and 60.5% of the cases in peripheral blood, placental blood and placental histological sections respectively. Placental histology was more sensitive (97.4%) than placental blood film (41.5%) and peripheral blood (8.0%) microscopy. In multivariate analysis, age (< or = 20 years old) (OR = 4.61, 95% CI = 1.47 - 14.70), history of fever attack (OR = 2.98, 95% CI = 1.58 - 5.73) were significant risk factors associated with microscopically detected parasitaemia. The use of > or = 2 SP doses (OR = 0.18, 95% CI = 0.06 - 0.52) was associated with a significant reduction in the prevalence of microscopic parasitaemia at delivery. Age (>20 years) (OR = 0.34, 95% CI = 0.15 - 0.75) was the only significant risk factor associated with parasitaemia diagnosed by histology only in univariate analysis. Microscopic parasitaemia (OR = 2.74, 95% CI = 1.33-5.62) was a significant risk factor for maternal anaemia at delivery, but neither infection detected by histology only, nor past infection were associated with increased risk of anaemia. CONCLUSION: Placenta histological examination was the most sensitive indicator of malaria infection at delivery. Microscopically detected parasitaemia was associated with increased risk of maternal anaemia at delivery, but not low-grade parasitaemia detected by placental histology only.
2009. Vol. 8, 126- p.