Background: Dengue fever and leptospirosis have partially overlapping geographic distributions, similar clinical presentations and potentially life-threatening complications but require different treatments. Distinguishing between these cosmopolitan emerging pathogens represents a diagnostic dilemma of global importance. We hypothesized that perturbations in host biomarkers can differentiate between individuals with dengue fever and leptospirosis during the acute phase of illness.
Methods: We randomly selected subjects from a prospective cohort study of acute febrile illness in Bucaramanga, Colombia and tested 19 serum biomarkers by ELISA in dengue fever (DF, n = 113) compared to subjects with leptospirosis (n = 47). Biomarkers were selected for further analysis if they had good discriminatory ability (area under the ROC curve (AUC) >0.80) and were beyond a reference range (assessed using local healthy controls).
Results: Nine biomarkers differed significantly between dengue fever and leptospirosis, with higher levels of Angptl3, IL-18BP, IP-10/CXCL10, Platelet Factor 4, sICAM-1, Factor D, sEng and sKDR in dengue and higher levels of sTie-2 in leptospirosis (p < 0.001 for all comparisons). Two biomarkers, sEng and IL18BP, showed excellent discriminatory ability (AUROC >0.90). When incorporated into multivariable models, sEng and IL18BP improved the diagnostic accuracy of clinical information alone.
Conclusions: These results suggest that host biomarkers may have utility in differentiating between dengue and leptospirosis, clinically similar conditions of different etiology.