Noor Rain Abdullah, Bridget E Barber, Timothy William, Nor Azrina Norahmad, Umi Rubiah Satsu, Prem Kumar Muniandy, Zakiah Ismail, Matthew J Grigg, Jenarun Jelip, Kim Piera, Lorenz von Seidlein, Tsin W Yeo, Nicholas M Anstey, Ric N Price and Sarah Auburn (2013). Plasmodium vivax population structure and transmission dynamics in Sabah Malaysia. PLos One 8(12): e82553
Despite significant progress in the control of malaria in Malaysia, the complex transmission dynamics of P. vivax continue to challenge national efforts to achieve elimination. To assess the impact of ongoing interventions on P. vivax transmission dynamics in Sabah, we genotyped 9 short tandem repeat markers in a total of 97 isolates (8 recurrences) from across Sabah, with a focus on two districts, Kota Marudu (KM, n = 24) and Kota Kinabalu (KK, n = 21), over a 2 year period. STRUCTURE analysis on the Sabah-wide dataset demonstrated multiple sub-populations. Significant differentiation (FST = 0.243) was observed between KM and KK, located just 130 Km apart. Consistent with low endemic transmission, infection complexity was modest in both KM (mean MOI = 1.38) and KK (mean MOI = 1.19). However, population diversity remained moderate (HE = 0.583 in KM and HE = 0.667 in KK). Temporal trends revealed clonal expansions reflecting epidemic transmission dynamics. The haplotypes of these isolates declined in frequency over time, but persisted at low frequency throughout the study duration. A diverse array of low frequency isolates were detected in both KM and KK, some likely reflecting remnants of previous expansions. In accordance with clonal expansions, high levels of Linkage Disequilibrium (IAS >0.5 [P<0.0001] in KK and KM) declined sharply when identical haplotypes were represented once (IAS = 0.07 [P = 0.0076] in KM, and IAS = -0.003 [P = 0.606] in KK). All 8 recurrences, likely to be relapses, were homologous to the prior infection. These recurrences may promote the persistence of parasite lineages, sustaining local diversity. In summary, Sabah's shrinking P. vivax population appears to have rendered this low endemic setting vulnerable to epidemic expansions. Migration may play an important role in the introduction of new parasite strains leading to epidemic expansions, with important implications for malaria elimination.