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J Clin Microbiol. 1999 Nov;37(11):3644-6.

Comparison of the OptiMAL test with PCR for diagnosis of malaria in immigrants.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, Kuwait University, Safat, Kuwait. iqbal@hsc.kuniv.edu.kw


The OptiMAL test (Flow Inc., Portland, Oreg.), which detects a malaria parasite lactate dehydrogenase (pLDH) antigen, has not been evaluated for its sensitivity in the diagnosis of malaria infection in various epidemiological settings. Using microscopy and a PCR as reference standards, we performed a comparison of these assays with the OptiMAL test for the detection of Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax infection in 550 immigrants who had come from areas where malaria is endemic to reside in Kuwait, where malaria is not endemic. As determined by microscopy, 125 (23%) patients had malaria, and of these, 84 (67%) were infected with P. vivax and 36 were infected with P. falciparum; in 5 cases the parasite species could not be determined due to a paucity of the parasites. The PCR detected malaria infection in 145 (26%) patients; 102 (70%) of the patients had P. vivax infection and 43 had P. falciparum infection. Of the five cases undetermined by microscopy, the PCR detected P. falciparum infection in two cases, P. vivax infection in two cases, and mixed (P. falciparum plus P. vivax) infection in one case. Correspondingly, the OptiMAL test detected malaria infection in 95 patients (17%); of these, 70 (74%) had P. vivax infection and 25 were infected with P. falciparum. In this study, 61 (49%) of the 125 malaria cases, as confirmed by microscopy, had a degree of parasitemia of <100 parasites per microl, and 23 (18%) of the cases had a degree of <50 parasites per microl. Our results show that the sensitivity of the OptiMAL test is high (97%) at a high level of parasitemia (>100 parasites/microl) but drops to 59% when the level is <100 parasites/microl and to 39% when it is <50 parasites/microl. In addition, the OptiMAL test failed to identify four patients whose blood smears contained P. falciparum gametocytes only. We conclude that the sensitivity and specificity of the OptiMAL test are comparable to those of microscopy in detecting malaria infection at a parasitemia level of >100 parasites/microl; however, the test failed to identify more than half of the patients with a parasitemia level of <50 parasites/microl. Thus, the OptiMAL test should be used with great caution, and it should not replace conventional microscopy in the diagnosis of malaria infection.

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