The spatial heterogeneity of malaria suggests that interventions may be targeted for maximum impact. It is unclear to what extent different metrics lead to consistent delineation of hotspot boundaries. Using data from a large community-based malaria survey in the western Kenyan highlands, we assessed the agreement between a model-based geostatistical (MBG) approach to detect hotspots using Plasmodium falciparum parasite prevalence and serological evidence for exposure. Malaria transmission was widespread and highly heterogeneous with one third of the total population living in hotspots regardless of metric tested. Moderate agreement (Kappa = 0.424) was observed between hotspots defined based on parasite prevalence by polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-And the prevalence of antibodies to two P. falciparum antigens (MSP-1, AMA-1). While numerous biologically plausible hotspots were identified, their detection strongly relied on the proportion of the population sampled. When only 3% of the population was sampled, no PCR derived hotspots were reliably detected and at least 21% of the population was needed for reliable results. Similar results were observed for hotspots of seroprevalence. Hotspot boundaries are driven by the malaria diagnostic and sample size used to inform the model. These findings warn against the simplistic use of spatial analysis on available data to target malaria interventions in areas where hotspot boundaries are uncertain.
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