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In many Asian populations, the commonest form of severe thalassemia results from the coinheritance of HbE and beta thalassemia. The management of this disease is particularly difficult because of its extreme clinical diversity; although some genetic and adaptive factors have been identified as phenotypic modifiers, the reasons remain unclear. Because the role of the environment in the course of severe thalassemia has been neglected completely and because malaria due to both Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax has been prevalent in Sri Lanka, we carried out a pilot study of patients with HbE beta thalassemia that showed high frequencies of antibodies to both parasite species and that 28.6% of the children had DNA-based evidence of current infection with P. vivax. Malarial antibodies then were assessed in patients with HbE beta thalassemia compared with those in age-matched controls. There was a significant increase in the frequency of antibodies in the thalassemic patients, particularly against P. vivax and in young children. There was also a higher frequency in those who had been splenectomized compared with those with intact spleens, although in the latter it was still higher than that in the controls. The thalassemic patients showed significant correlations between malaria antibody status and phenotype. Patients with HbE beta thalassemia may be more prone to malaria, particularly P. vivax, which is reflected in their clinical severity. Because P. vivax malaria is widespread in Asia, further studies of its interaction with HbE beta thalassemia and related diseases are required urgently as a part of ongoing thalassemia control programs.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





18716 - 18721


Adolescent, Adult, Antibodies, Protozoan, Antigens, Protozoan, Asian Continental Ancestry Group, Case-Control Studies, Child, Environmental Exposure, Humans, Malaria, Phenotype, Pilot Projects, Prevalence, Splenectomy, Sri Lanka, beta-Thalassemia