Background: Reactive case detection (RCD) is an integral part of many malaria control and elimination programmes and can be conceived of as a way of gradually decreasing transmission. However, it is unclear under what circumstances RCD may have a substantial impact on prevalence, how likely it is to lead to local elimination, or how effective it needs to be to prevent reintroduction after transmission has been interrupted.
Methods: Analyses and simulations of a discrete time compartmental susceptible-infectious-susceptible (SIS) model were used to understand the mechanisms of how RCD changes transmission dynamics and estimate the impact of RCD programmes in a range of settings with varying patterns of transmission potential and programme characteristics. Prevalence survey data from recent studies in Zambia were used to capture the effects of spatial clustering of patent infections.
Results: RCD proved most effective at low prevalence. Increasing the number of index cases followed was more important than increasing the number of neighbours tested per index case. Elimination was achieved only in simulations of situations with very low transmission intensity and following many index cases. However, RCD appears to be helpful in maintaining the disease-free state after achieving malaria elimination (through other interventions).
Conclusion: RCD alone can eliminate malaria in only a very limited range of settings, where transmission potential is very low, and improving the coverage of RCD has little effect on this range. In other settings, it is likely to reduce disease burden. RCD may also help maintain the disease-free state in the face of imported infections. Prevalence survey data can be used to estimate a targeting ratio (the ratio of prevalence found through RCD to that in the general population) which is an important determinant of the effect of RCD.
Keywords: Elimination; Mathematical modelling; Reactive case detection.