Detecting malaria parasites postmortem: Experiments, results, and implications
Setzer TJ, Sundellranby I, Les C, Pechy C, and Beste S. Detecting malaria parasites postmortem: Experiments, results, and implications. Am J Phys Anthropol 2016; 159:288
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Identifying malaria in bioarchaeological contexts remains a challenge to researchers studying the coevolution of pathogen and host. In this study, we conducted a controlled experiment to determine if malaria parasites can be detected with microscopy in a postmortem context. Murine models (donated by the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute) infected with Plasmodium sp. were dissected ten days after death. Parasites were observed. The methods used to prepare hepatic and osseous tissues, which were embedded in paraffin and examined, using 1000x light microscopy, are presented. The effectiveness of Wright-Giemsa and QBC Fast malaria stains, which are standard stains used in histology to identify malaria parasites, are also compared. Implications for biological anthropologists, in particular bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologist, are presented, as well as caveats concerning preservation, data collection protocols in the field, and the interpretation of results.