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Topography as a modifier of breeding habitats and concurrent vulnerability to malaria risk in the western Kenya highlands


Abstract Background Topographic parameters such as elevation, slope, aspect, and ruggedness play an important role in malaria transmission in the highland areas. They affect biological systems, such as larval habitats presence and productivity for malaria mosquitoes. This study investigated whether the distribution of local spatial malaria vectors and risk of infection with malaria parasites in the highlands is related to topography. Methods Four villages each measuring 9 Km2 lying between 1400-1700 m above sea level in the western Kenya highlands were categorized into a pair of broad and narrow valley shaped terrain sites. Larval, indoor resting adult malaria vectors and infection surveys were collected originating from the valley bottom and ending at the hilltop on both sides of the valley during the rainy and dry seasons. Data collected at a distance of ≤500 m from the main river/stream were categorized as valley bottom and those above as uphill. Larval surveys were categorized by habitat location while vectors and infections by house location. Results Overall, broad flat bottomed valleys had a significantly higher number of anopheles larvae/dip in their habitats than in narrow valleys during both the dry (1.89 versus 0.89 larvae/dip) and the rainy season (1.66 versus 0.89 larvae/dip). Similarly, vector adult densities/house in broad valley villages were higher than those within narrow valley houses during both the dry (0.64 versus 0.40) and the rainy season (0.96 versus 0.09). Asymptomatic malaria prevalence was significantly higher in participants residing within broad than those in narrow valley villages during the dry (14.55% vs. 7.48%) and rainy (17.15% vs. 1.20%) season. Malaria infections were wide spread in broad valley villages during both the dry and rainy season, whereas over 65% of infections were clustered at the valley bottom in narrow valley villages during both seasons. Conclusion Despite being in the highlands, local areas within low gradient topography characterized by broad valley bottoms have stable and significantly high malaria risk unlike those with steep gradient topography, which exhibit seasonal variations. Topographic parameters could therefore be considered in identification of high-risk malaria foci to help enhance surveillance or targeted control activities in regions where they are most needed.

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