Malaria Antibodies and Mefloquine Levels among United Nations Troops in Angola

Eli Schwartz, Florian Paul, Hedva Pener, Shlomo Almog, Michal Rotenberg, Jacob Golenser
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2310/7060.2001.24436 113-116 First published online: 1 May 2001

Abstract

Background The United Nations deployed about 8,000 soldiers in a peacekeeping mission in Angola. Malaria is the most common disease there and consequently it was the major risk to the UN troops. Most of them are from malaria free areas. As a result of improper prophylactic measures there were many cases of malaria, including some deaths in 1995. In February–March 1996, an Israeli team was sent to Angola to evaluate the malaria situation among UN soldiers. This paper deals specifically with some aspects of chemoprophylaxis and diagnosis. The efforts were concentrated in one particular area where malaria incidence had been reported as the highest.

Methods Blood samples were collected from nonimmune soldiers who were using mefloquine as a prophylactic drug and were exposed to malaria. The mefloquine and the antimalarial antibody plasma levels were monitored.

Results While the local laboratory indicated that about 80% had a malaria episode, the serological results revealed that only 5 soldiers of the 56 (9%) examined had antimalarial antibodies, of which 3 were Angolans. Despite a controlled prophylactic regimen there was considerable variability in mefloquine plasma levels: 46% of the samples were below the required prophylactic level and 26% above it. All patients who were proven positive with malaria by both microscopic and serologic observation had a low level of mefloquine.

Conclusions In field conditions, a kit which identifies plasmodial antigens, is preferable, to a microscopic diagnostic method. Controlled mefloquine prophylaxis may not prevent malaria, especially when blood levels are low. The reason for the low mefloquine blood levels is not clear and needs further evaluation.