Background: Dengue fever is routinely detected in many laboratories using commercial tests for the specific detection of dengue IgM antibodies.
Objectives: We have studied the sensitivity of IgM antibody detection in paired serum samples of 43 patients with either with primary dengue (PD) or secondary dengue (SD).
Study design: Two consecutive samples were drawn from 23 Vietnamese and 20 German patients. All patients were selected for a positive PCR and for the fact that consecutive serum samples were available. The diagnosis of PD was based on seroconversion to dengue antigen and in SD on the detection of virus RNA in the presence of anti-dengue IgG antibodies.
Results: In samples of patients with PD fever taken during days 1-3 of the disease no IgM antibody could be detected. During days 4-7 and after day 7, IgM antibody was detected in 55% and 94%, respectively. In patients with SD fever, even less positive IgM samples were found in samples taken during days 4-7 (47%) and after day 7 (78%). IgG titers were significantly higher in SD compared to PD patients, although high (>1280) titers were also found in some PD patients.
Conclusion: In numerous acute dengue fever patients an early diagnosis will be obtained only by combining IgM antibody detection with detection of virus or virus RNA using RT-PCR.