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New test for lymphatic filariasis will improve detection rates

24th May 2013

Weil GJ, Curtis KC, Fischer K, et al (2013) Laboratory and field evaluation of a new rapid test for detecting Wuchereria bancrofti antigen in human blood. Am J Trop Med Hygiene. Published online May 20, 2013

A new test has been found to be far more effective at detecting lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) than the standard test currently used. The worm infection, is transmitted by mosquitoes and it can cause severe deformities in the legs and genitals. The test has been trialled in West Africa has been far more effective in diagnosing the infection than the commonly-used test. It is being used to map the disease and evaluate the effects of a global public health programme, which aims to eliminate the disease which currently affects 120 million people. The Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis uses mass drug administration in affected areas, giving medication to more than 500 million people every year (http://www.who.int/lymphatic_filariasis/disease/en/).

The two tests were compared at the Liberian Institute for Medical Research. 503 people were included in the comparison. The new test was nearly 26% more effective, detecting 124/503 infections compared with 98/503.

The new test also has additional benefits of a longer shelf life (two years without refrigeration compared with three months for the standard test). It is also fairly easy to use — a little like a pregnancy test, blood is placed on the strip, with two lines appearing if the infection is present.

Early detection of the parasite is of great importance as the worms can live in the body for many years, damaging the lymphatic system without being apparent. 

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