Background: The relationship between malaria infection and nutritional status is complex. Previous studies suggest malaria may increase the incidence and severity of malnutrition, while malnutrition may increase the risk of malaria infection. Here, we report bidirectional associations between malaria and nutritional status among children with uncomplicated severe acute malnutrition (SAM).
Methods: This study is a secondary analysis of a randomized, controlled trial for the treatment of uncomplicated SAM in Niger. Children aged 6-59 months were enrolled and followed for 12 weeks. Malaria infection was assessed using an histidine-rich protein 2 (HRP2) rapid diagnostic test at admission and at any follow-up visit with fever. We assessed the association of nutritional status at admission on malaria incidence using Cox proportional hazards regression and malaria infection at admission on nutritional recovery and weight and height gain using linear regression.
Results: Of 2399 children included in the analysis, 1327 (55.3%) were infected with malaria at admission. Malaria incidence was 12.1 cases/100 person-months among those without malaria infection at admission. Nutritional status at admission was not associated with malaria incidence. Children with malaria infection at admission and subsequently treated with an artemisinin-based combination therapy had increased weight gain (0.38 g/kg/day; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.07 to 0.69) and reduced height gain (-0.002 mm/day; 95% CI, -0.004 to -0.0008).
Conclusions: Malaria infection was common among children treated for uncomplicated SAM. Malaria infection may impair height gain. Proper medical and nutritional management should be ensured to prevent adverse effects of malaria infection.
Clinical Trials Registration: NCT01613547.