Failure of artemether-lumefantrine therapy in travellers returning to Belgium with plasmodium falciparum malaria: an observational case series with genomic analysis

Jan Pierreux, Emmanuel Bottieau, Eric Florence, Ula Maniewski, Anne Bruggemans, Jiska Malotaux, Charlotte Martin, Janneke Cox, Deborah Konopnicki, Pieter Guetens, Jacob Verschueren, Jasmine Coppens, Marjan Van Esbroeck, Mathijs Mutsaers, Anna Rosanas-Urgell

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BACKGROUND: Failure of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is increasingly reported in patients with Plasmodium falciparum malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. We aimed to describe the clinical and genomic characteristics of recent cases of P. falciparum malaria failing artemether-lumefantrine in Belgium.

METHODS: Travel-related cases of malaria confirmed at the national reference laboratory of the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM), Antwerp, Belgium, were reviewed. All cases for whom attending clinicians reported persistence (beyond Day 3 post-treatment initiation, i.e. early failure) or recrudescence (from Day 7 to 42, i.e. late failure) of P. falciparum parasites despite adequate drug intake were analysed. Both initial and persistent/recurrent samples were submitted to next generation sequencing to investigate resistance-conferring mutations.

RESULTS: From July 2022 to June 2023, eight P. falciparum cases of failure with artemether-lumefantrine therapy were reported (early failure = 1; late failure = 7). All travellers were returning from sub-Saharan Africa, most (6/8) after a trip to visit friends and relatives. PfK13 mutations associated with resistance to artemisinin were found in two travellers returning from East Africa, including the validated marker R561H in the patient with early failure and the candidate marker A675V in a patient with late failure. Additional mutations were detected that could contribute to decreased susceptibility to artemisinin in another three cases, lumefantrine in six cases, and proguanil in all eight participants. Various regimens were used to treat the persistent/recrudescent cases, with favourable outcome.

CONCLUSION: Within a 12-month period, we investigated eight travellers returning from sub-Saharan Africa with P. falciparum malaria and in whom artemether-lumefantrine failure was documented. Mutations conferring resistance to antimalarials were found in all analysed blood samples, especially against lumefantrine and proguanil, but also artemisinin. There is a pressing need for systematic genomic surveillance of resistance to antimalarials in international travellers with P. falciparum malaria, especially those experiencing treatment failure.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbertaad165
JournalJournal of Travel Medicine
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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