Malaria is no longer endemic in Italy since 1970 when the World Health Organization declared Italy malaria-free, but it is now the most commonly imported disease. The aim of the study was to analyse the trend of imported malaria cases in Parma, Italy, during January 2013-June 2017, reporting also the treatment and the outcome of cases, exploring the comparison of the three diagnostic tests used for malaria diagnosis: microscopy, immunochromatographic assay (ICT) (BinaxNOW®) and Real-time PCR assays detecting Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium ovale curtisi, Plasmodium ovale wallikeri, and Plasmodium knowlesi.
Of the 288 patients with suspected malaria, 87 were positive by microscopy: 73 P. falciparum, 2 P. vivax, 8 P. ovale, 1 P. vivax/P. ovale, 1 P. malariae and 2 Plasmodium sp. All samples were positive by ICT except 6. Plasmodial DNA was revealed in the 87 cases and in 2 additional cases showing P. falciparum-specific bands by ICT, as follows: 75 P. falciparum, 2 P. vivax, 6 P. ovale curtisi, 3 P. ovale wallikeri, 1 P. malariae, and 2 mixed infections. 72 patients were foreigners and 17 Italians travelling for tourism or business. The majority of these patients presented with fever at blood collection and did not have chemoprophylaxis. No fatal cases were observed and the drug mostly used was quinine observing a negative blood smear or a parasitaemia < 0.001% after 48-72 h' therapy.
The study shows an update and a thorough analysis of imported malaria cases in the area of Parma during 4.5 years from the point of view of the total case management, clinical and diagnostic. The prevalence of malaria in such area in the considered period was especially due to immigrants mostly from Africa. Molecular methods were more sensitive and specific than microscopy and ICT, both detecting additional cases of P. falciparum malaria missed by microscopy and correctly identifying the Plasmodium species of medical interest. The data reported in this study may stimulate the clinicians in non-endemic areas to suspect malaria also in cases, where the most typical symptoms are absent, and the parasitologists to confirm the results of microscopy, remaining the reference method, with molecular methods to avoid misdiagnosis.