Rapid diagnostic tests for diagnosing uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria in endemic countries

Katharine Abba1,*, Jonathan J Deeks2,Piero L Olliaro3,Cho-Min Naing4,Sally M Jackson1,Yemisi Takwoingi2,Sarah Donegan1,Paul Garner1

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, International Health Group, Liverpool, Merseyside, UK
University of Birmingham, Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Birmingham, UK
World Health Organization, UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), Geneva, Switzerland
International Medical University, Division of Community Medicine, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Rapid diagnostic tests for diagnosing uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria in endemic countries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD008122.

To read the full review please follow this link: DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008122.pub2. 

Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for Plasmodium falciparum malaria use antibodies to detect either HRP-2 antigen or pLDH antigen, and can improve access to diagnostics in developing countries.

We identified 74 unique studies as eligible for this review and categorized them according to the antigens they detected. Types 1 to 3 include HRP-2 (from P. falciparum) either by itself or with other antigens. Types 4 and 5 included pLDH (from P. falciparum) either by itself or with other antigens. In comparisons with microscopy, we identified 71 evaluations of Type 1 tests, eight evaluations of Type 2 tests and five evaluations of Type 3 tests. In meta-analyses, average sensitivities and specificities (95% CI) were 94.8% (93.1% to 96.1%) and 95.2% (93.2% to 96.7%) for Type 1 tests, 96.0% (94.0% to 97.3%) and 95.3% (87.3% to 98.3%) for Type 2 tests, and 99.5% (71.0% to 100.0%) and 90.6% (80.5% to 95.7%) for Type 3 tests, respectively. 

Overall for HRP-2, the meta-analytical average sensitivity and specificity (95% CI) were 95.0% (93.5% to 96.2%) and 95.2% (93.4% to 99.4%), respectively. 

For pLDH antibody-based RDTs verified with microscopy, we identified 17 evaluations of Type 4 RDTs and three evaluations of Type 5 RDTs. In meta-analyses, average sensitivity for Type 4 tests was 91.5% (84.7% to 95.3%) and average specificity was 98.7% (96.9% to 99.5%). For Type 5 tests, average sensitivity was 98.4% (95.1% to 99.5%) and average specificity was 97.5% (93.5% to 99.1%). 

Overall for pLDH, the meta-analytical average sensitivity and specificity (95% CI) were 93.2% (88.0% to 96.2%) and 98.5% (96.7% to 99.4%), respectively. 

For both categories of test, there was substantial heterogeneity in study results. Quality of the microscopy reference standard could only be assessed in 40% of studies due to inadequate reporting, but results did not seem to be influenced by the reporting quality.

Overall, HRP-2 antibody-based tests (such as the Type 1 tests) tended to be more sensitive and were significantly less specific than pLDH-based tests (such as the Type 4 tests). If the point estimates for Type 1 and Type 4 tests are applied to a hypothetical cohort of 1000 patients where 30% of those presenting with symptoms have P. falciparum, Type 1 tests will miss 16 cases, and Type 4 tests will miss 26 cases. The number of people wrongly diagnosed with P. falciparum would be 34 with Type 1 tests, and nine with Type 4 tests.

Authors' conclusions
The sensitivity and specificity of all RDTs is such that they can replace or extend the access of diagnostic services for uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria. HRP-2 antibody types may be more sensitive but are less specific than pLDH antibody-based tests, but the differences are small. The HRP-2 antigen persists even after effective treatment and so is not useful for detecting treatment failures.