The reliability of diagnostic techniques in the diagnosis and management of malaria in the absence of a gold standard.
Ochola LB., Vounatsou P., Smith T., Mabaso ML., Newton CR.
The accuracy of techniques for the diagnosis of malaria are usually compared with optical microscopy, which is considered to be a gold standard. However, microscopy is prone to error and therefore makes it difficult to assess the reliability of other diagnostic techniques. We did a systematic review to assess the specificity and sensitivity of diagnostic techniques in different settings, using a statistical method that avoided defining a gold standard. Performance varied depending on species of the malaria parasite, level of parasitaemia, and immunity. Overall, histidine-rich protein 2 (HRP2)-based dipsticks showed a high sensitivity (92.7%) and specificity (99.2%) for Plasmodium falciparum in endemic areas. The acridine orange test was more sensitive (97.1%) in detecting P falciparum in epidemiological studies, with a specificity of 97.9%. In the absence of a gold standard, HRP2 dipsticks and acridine orange could provide an alternative for detecting falciparum infections in endemic areas and epidemiological studies, respectively. Microscopy still remains more reliable in detecting non-falciparum infections.