This review summarises trials evaluating the accuracy of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for diagnosing malaria due to Plasmodium vivax or other non-falciparum species. After searching for relevant studies up to December 2013, we included 47 studies, enrolling 22,862 adults and children.
What are rapid tests and why do they need to be able to distinguish Plasmodium vivax malaria
RDTs are simple to use, point of care tests, suitable for use in rural settings by primary healthcare workers. RDTs work by using antibodies to detect malaria antigens in the patient's blood. A drop of blood is placed on the test strip where the antibodies and antigen combine to create a distinct line indicating a positive test.
Malaria can be caused any one of five species of Plasmodium parasite, but P. falciparum and P. vivax are the most common. In some areas, RDTs need to be able to distinguish which species is causing the malaria symptoms as different species may require different treatments. Unlike P. falciparum, P. vivax has a liver stage which can cause repeated illness every few months unless it is treated with primaquine. The most common types of RDTs for P. vivax use two test lines in combination; one line specific to P. falciparum, and one line which can detect any species of Plasmodium. If the P. falciparum line is negative and the 'any species' line is positive, the illness is presumed to be due to P. vivax (but could also be caused by P. malariae, or P. ovale). More recently, RDTs have been developed which specifically test for P. vivax.
What does the research say
RDTs testing for non-falciparum malaria were very specific (range 98% to 100%) meaning that only 1% to 2% of patients who test positive would actually not have the disease. However, they were less sensitive (range 78% to 89%), meaning between 11% and 22% of people with non-falciparum malaria would actually get a negative test result.
RDTs which specifically tested for P. vivax were more accurate with a specificity of 99% and a sensitivity of 95%, meaning that only 5% of people with P. vivax malaria would have a negative test result.
Abba, K.; Kirkham, A.J.; Olliaro, P.L.; Deeks, J.J.; Donegan, S.; Garner, P.; Takwoingi, Y. Rapid diagnostic tests for diagnosing uncomplicated non-falciparum or Plasmodium vivax malaria in endemic countries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2014) Issue 12, Art. No.: CD011431. [DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011431]