Background: As public health efforts seek to eradicate malaria, there has been an emphasis on eliminating low-density parasite reservoirs in asymptomatic carriers. As such, diagnosing submicroscopic Plasmodium infections using PCR-based techniques has become important not only in clinical trials of malaria vaccines and therapeutics, but also in active malaria surveillance campaigns. However, PCR-based quantitative assays that rely on nucleic acid extracted from dried blood spots (DBS) have demonstrated lower sensitivity than assays that use cryopreserved whole blood as source material.
Methods. The density of Plasmodium falciparum asexual parasites was quantified using genomic DNA extracted from dried blood spots (DBS) and the sensitivity of two approaches was compared: quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) targeting the P. falciparum 18S ribosomal RNA gene, either with an initial conventional PCR amplification prior to qPCR (nested qPCR), or without an initial amplification (qPCR only). Parasite densities determined by nested qPCR, qPCR only, and light microscopy were compared.
Results: Nested qPCR results in 10-fold higher sensitivity (0.5 parasites/μl) when compared to qPCR only (five parasites/ul). Among microscopy-positive samples, parasite densities calculated by nested qPCR correlated strongly with microscopy for both asymptomatic (Pearson's r = 0.58, P < 0.001) and symptomatic (Pearson's r = 0.70, P < 0.0001) P. falciparum infections.
Conclusion: Nested qPCR improves the sensitivity for the detection of P. falciparum blood-stage infection from clinical DBS samples. This approach may be useful for active malaria surveillance in areas where submicroscopic asymptomatic infections are prevalent.
- Dried blood spot
- Nested PCR
- Nucleic acid testing
- Passive surveillance
- Plasmodium falciparum
- Quantitative PCR
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases