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Clin Microbiol Infect. 2013 May;19(5):399-407. doi: 10.1111/1469-0691.12151. Epub 2013 Feb 25.

Malaria rapid diagnostic tests in endemic settings.

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Department of Clinical Sciences, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium.


Malaria rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are instrument-free tests that provide results within 20 min and can be used by community health workers. RDTs detect antigens produced by the Plasmodium parasite such as Plasmodium falciparum histidine-rich protein-2 (PfHPR2) and Plasmodium lactate dehydrogenase (pLDH). The accuracy of RDTs for the diagnosis of uncomplicated P. falciparum infection is equal or superior to routine microscopy (but inferior to expert microscopy). Sensitivity for Plasmodium vivax is 75-100%; for Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malariae, diagnostic performance is poor. Design limitations of RDTs include poor sensitivity at low parasite densities, susceptibility to the prozone effect (PfHRP2-detecting RDTs), false-negative results due to PfHRP2 deficiency in the case of pfhrp2 gene deletions (PfHRP2-detecting RDTs), cross-reactions between Plasmodium antigens and detection antibodies, false-positive results by other infections and susceptibility to heat and humidity. End-user's errors relate to safety, procedure (delayed reading, incorrect sample and buffer volumes) and interpretation (not recognizing invalid test results, disregarding faint test lines). Withholding antimalarial treatment in the case of negative RDT results tends to be infrequent and tendencies towards over-prescription of antibiotics have been noted. Numerous shortcomings in RDT kits' labelling, instructions for use (correctness and readability) and contents have been observed. The World Health Organization and partners actively address quality assurance of RDTs by comparative testing of RDTs, inspections of manufacturing sites, lot testing and training tools but no formal external quality assessment programme of end-user performance exists. Elimination of malaria requires RDTs with lower detection limits, for which nucleic acid amplification tests are under development.

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