Background: In Africa, fever is often treated presumptively as malaria, resulting in misdiagnosis and the overuse of antimalarial drugs. Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria may allow improved fever management.
Methods: We compared RDTs based on histidine-rich protein 2 (HRP2) and RDTs based on Plasmodium lactate dehydrogenase (pLDH) with expert microscopy and PCR-corrected microscopy for 7000 patients at sites of varying malaria transmission intensity across Uganda.
Results: When all sites were considered, the sensitivity of the HRP2-based test was 97% when compared with microscopy and 98% when corrected by PCR; the sensitivity of the pLDH-based test was 88% when compared with microscopy and 77% when corrected by PCR. The specificity of the HRP2-based test was 71% when compared with microscopy and 88% when corrected by PCR; the specificity of the pLDH-based test was 92% when compared with microscopy and >98% when corrected by PCR. Based on Plasmodium falciparum PCR-corrected microscopy, the positive predictive value (PPV) of the HRP2-based test was high (93%) at all but the site with the lowest transmission rate; the pLDH-based test and expert microscopy offered excellent PPVs (98%) for all sites. The negative predictive value (NPV) of the HRP2-based test was consistently high (>97%); in contrast, the NPV for the pLDH-based test dropped significantly (from 98% to 66%) as transmission intensity increased, and the NPV for expert microscopy decreased significantly (99% to 54%) because of increasing failure to detect subpatent parasitemia.
Conclusions: Based on the high PPV and NPV, HRP2-based RDTs are likely to be the best diagnostic choice for areas with medium-to-high malaria transmission rates in Africa.