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Malaria Diagnosis

Diagnosis of malaria

Delay in malaria diagnosis and treatment is a leading cause of death in malaria patients worldwide.

Malaria disease should be diagnosed and treated promptly to avoid serious complications and in some cases, death. Accurate diagnosis of malaria is essential for effective treatment against the infection.

In countries such as the United States where malaria is not endemic any more, medical professionals might not be familiar with the disease. Doctors and other health care providers often do not consider malaria among the potential diagnosis and could delay ordering the needed diagnostic test. Diagnosis either by microscopy or rapid diagnostics tests are recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization) in everybody with suspected malaria before treatment is administered. .

There are a number of ways in which malaria can be diagnosed:

  • Microscopic diagnosis – A drop of the patient’s blood (blood smear) are spread out on a microscope slide to be examined under a microscope in order to identify malaria parasites. The specimen is stained (Giemsa stain) prior to examination to give the parasites a distinctive appearance. This method remains the usual for laboratory confirmation of malaria. Accuracy of microscopic diagnosis depends on the quality of the reagents of the microscope and on the skill of the laboratorian.
  • Clinical diagnosis is based on the patient’s physical findings on examination and symptoms. Early symptoms of malaria such as fever, shivering, nausea, headaches, sweats and body pains, are also found in other diseases like viral infections and flu. The physical findings can therefore be diminutive in making accurate diagnosis. Clinical findings in severe cases, such as breathing difficulties, confusion, seizures or coma, might increase the index of suspicion of malaria. Clinical findings should be confirmed laboratory test.
  • Antigen Detection. A variety of test kits are obtainable to identify antigens derived from malaria parasites. These immunologic tests mainly use a measuring stick or cassette format, and present results in 2-15 minutes. These Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs), is a valuable alternative to microscopy diagnosis. Malaria RDTs is widely used in situations where dependable microscopic diagnosis is not available. RDT testing is approved for use by hospital and commercial laboratories in the United States. Use by individual clinicians or by patients themselves is not approved. A microscopic test is recommended to confirm results of RDTs.
  • Molecular Diagnosis. Parasite nucleic acids are identified by means of polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This technique is more sensitive than smear microscopy and is of limited value for the diagnosis of acutely ill patients in the standard healthcare setting. PCR results are regularly not available fast enough to be of value in confirming the diagnosis of malaria infection. This test proofs to be most useful in identifying the species of the malaria parasite.
  • Serology is used to detect antibodies against malaria parasites by using indirect immunofluorescene. Serology measures past exposure and are not used to detect current infection.

It is in your best interest to get medical diagnosis as soon as possible if malaria infection is suspected.

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