Malaria infection is linked with a 30% increased risk of heart failure, according to a small study presented at ESC Congress 2019 together with the World Congress of Cardiology.
The mosquito-borne infection affects more than 219 million people worldwide each year, according to 2018 statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We have seen an increase in the incidence of malaria cases and what is intriguing is we have seen the same increase in cardiovascular disease in the same regions,” said first author Dr Philip Brainin, a postdoctoral research fellow at Herlev-Gentofte University Hospital, Denmark.
The researchers used Danish nationwide registries to identify patients with a history of malaria infection between January 1994 and January 2017. The mean age of patients in the study was 34 years old and 58% were male.
A total of 3,989 malaria cases were identified, with 40% having Plasmodium falciparum, a parasite transmitted through mosquito bites that is responsible for the majority of severe malaria cases in humans.
The 11-year follow-up of patients revealed 69 cases of heart failure, which was very high as compared to the general population, and 68 cases of cardiovascular death, which was considered within the normal range.
Dr Brainin noted that, while heart failure risk was increased for patients in the study, there was not a link to heart attack or cardiovascular death.
More research will be needed to further validate the findings, but recent studies have found that malaria could be a contributor to functional and structural changes in the myocardium, which is the muscle tissue of the heart.
Malaria can also affect vascular pathways that cause inflammation in the heart, which could lead to fibrosis and then heart failure.