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Malaria remains a significant global health challenge, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions. Early and accurate tests for malaria are crucial for effective treatment and control of the disease.
Symptoms and Causes
The symptoms of malaria are in the initial stage similar to acute flu and cause fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and malaise. Occasionally rigors such as severe shivering, muscle spasms, and chills also occur. The spleen and the liver are likely to become tender and eventually enlarge in size during the acute malarial stages.
Malaria caused by the protozoan parasite can also cause other severe effects such as seizures, comas, kidney failures, and respiratory failures that may lead to the deaths of malaria-infected patients.
As most of the symptoms of malaria are difficult to identify with ease, it is very important that timely blood tests are carried out on malaria-infected persons for their correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Whenever patients complain about recurring fever with shivering, anemia, and enlargement of the spleen, and if they are habitats of mosquito-infested areas, it is likely that they may be infected with malaria.
Tests for Malaria
The standard diagnostic tests used for identifying the malarial parasites are through the microscopic test investigation of Giemsa stained thick blood smear for the detection of the parasites and through the thin blood smear for the identification of the specific species of the parasite.
The proper procedure for carrying out the Giemsa tests requires the examination of 200 to 300 different oil immersion fields. In the case of patients having consumed prophylactic medications, the number of oil immersion fields may require to be increased as during the treatment with prophylactic medication, the number of parasites may decrease drastically.
Alternative methods for the detection of malaria parasites are sensitive in nature and more accurate in diagnoses, however, these methods are expensive and may include: Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs): ParaSight F, ICT-Malaria Pf, OptiMALr, and Kat-Quick kits (dipstick tests)
These tests are quite useful for the specific detection of P falciparum infections and the principles behind this test are based on the antibody recognition of the HRP-2 antigen of the protozoan parasite.
The dipstick test is not a commonly used method for the detection of malaria. However, this test is not as effective when the Plasmodium parasite levels are below 100 parasites/mL of blood and moreover the results of this test are sometimes negative even when patients have high levels of parasites.
Due to these two reasons, it is always preferable to confirm the test results of the dipstick test with other screening tests. Polymerase Chain Reaction Assays (PCR) is a very sensitive test used for the detection of Plasmodium species present in patients with a condition in which parasites are present in the blood as low as 10 parasites/mL of blood.