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J Clin Microbiol. 2002 Jan;40(1):155-8.

Evaluation of the OptiMAL rapid antigen test and species-specific PCR to detect placental Plasmodium falciparum infection at delivery.

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College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi.


During pregnancy, Plasmodium falciparum infection of the placenta frequently occurs in the absence of parasites in peripheral blood. We investigated the abilities of the OptiMAL rapid immunochromatographic strip test for P. falciparum lactate dehydrogenase and species-specific PCR performed on peripheral blood to detect placental infection or malaria-associated low birth weight. Of 509 Malawian women screened by microscopy, 76 had malaria infection. Among these 509 women, the frequency of peripheral blood parasitemia was low. The OptiMAL test gave positive results in 37 of 171 women tested (one of whom had placental but not peripheral blood parasitemia) and had sensitivities of 71% for peripheral parasitemia and 38% for placental parasitemia compared to the microscopy values. The specificity for peripheral parasitemia was 94%. In 135 women, PCR had sensitivities of 94% for peripheral blood malaria detected by microscopy and 72% for placental infection. In samples examined by PCR, the prevalence of malaria in peripheral blood increased from 26.7% by microscopy to 51.9%. Women with placental malaria and women with malaria in peripheral blood samples by microscopy or OptiMAL testing, but not women with malaria detected only by PCR, had lower-birth-weight babies than did women without malaria by these criteria. Positive results by PCR in the absence of microscopic parasitemia were not associated with low birth weight. Neither OptiMAL nor PCR testing of peripheral blood is adequately sensitive to detect all placental malaria infection, but a positive result by OptiMAL testing identifies women with a high proportion of low-birth-weight babies.

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