Treatment guided by rapid diagnostic tests for malaria in Tanzanian children: safety and alternative bacterial diagnoses

Malar J. 2011 Oct 6;10:290. doi: 10.1186/1475-2875-10-290.


Background: WHO guidelines for the treatment of young children with suspected malaria have recently changed from presumptive treatment to anti-malarial treatment guided by a blood slide or malaria rapid diagnostic test (RDT). However, there is limited evidence of the safety of this policy in routine outpatient settings in Africa.

Methods: Children 3-59 months of age with a non-severe febrile illness and no obvious cause were enrolled over a period of one year in a malaria endemic area of Tanzania. Treatment was determined by the results of a clinical examination and RDT result, and blood culture and serum lactate were also collected. RDT-negative children were followed up over 14 days.

Results: Over the course of one year, 965 children were enrolled; 158 (16.4%) were RDT-positive and treated with artemether-lumefantrine and 807 (83.4%) were RDT-negative and treated with non-anti-malarial medicines. Compared with RDT-positives, RDT-negative children were on average younger with a lower axillary temperature and more likely to have a history of cough or difficulty in breathing. Six (0.6%) children became RDT-positive after enrollment, all of whom were PCR-negative for Plasmodium falciparum DNA at enrollment. In addition, 12 (1.2%) children were admitted to hospital, one with possible malaria, none of whom died. A bacterial pathogen was identified in 9/965 (0.9%) children, eight of whom were RDT-negative and one was RDT-positive, but slide-negative. Excluding three children with Salmonella typhi, all of the children with bacteraemia were ≤ 12 months of age. Compared to double-read research slide results RDTs had a sensitivity of 97.8% (95% CI 96.9-98.7) and specificity of 96.3% (95% CI 96.3-98.4).

Conclusions: Use of RDTs to direct the use of anti-malarial drugs in young children did not result in any missed diagnoses of malaria although new infections soon after a consultation with a negative RDT result may undermine confidence in results. Invasive bacterial disease is uncommon in children with non-severe illness and most cases occurred in infants with a current fever.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / administration & dosage*
  • Bacteremia / diagnosis
  • Blood / microbiology
  • Blood / parasitology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / methods*
  • Drug Monitoring / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lactates / blood
  • Malaria, Falciparum / diagnosis*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tanzania


  • Antimalarials
  • Lactates