How long do rapid diagnostic tests remain positive after anti-malarial treatment?
Dalrymple U., Arambepola R., Gething PW., Cameron E.
BACKGROUND: Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are increasingly becoming a paradigm for both clinical diagnosis of malaria infections and for estimating community parasite prevalence in household malaria indicator surveys in malaria-endemic countries. The antigens detected by RDTs are known to persist in the blood after treatment with anti-malarials, but reports on the duration of persistence (and the effect this has on RDT positivity) of these antigens post-treatment have been variable. METHODS: In this review, published studies on the persistence of positivity of RDTs post-treatment are collated, and a bespoke Bayesian survival model is fit to estimate the number of days RDTs remain positive after treatment. RESULTS: Half of RDTs that detect the antigen histidine-rich protein II (HRP2) are still positive 15 (5-32) days post-treatment, 13 days longer than RDTs that detect the antigen Plasmodium lactate dehydrogenase, and that 5% of HRP2 RDTs are still positive 36 (21-61) days after treatment. The duration of persistent positivity for combination RDTs that detect both antigens falls between that for HRP2- or pLDH-only RDTs, with half of RDTs remaining positive at 7 (2-20) days post-treatment. This study shows that children display persistent RDT positivity for longer after treatment than adults, and that persistent positivity is more common when an individual is treated with artemisinin combination therapy than when treated with other anti-malarials. CONCLUSIONS: RDTs remain positive for a highly variable amount of time after treatment with anti-malarials, and the duration of positivity is highly dependent on the type of RDT used for diagnosis. Additionally, age and treatment both impact the duration of persistence of RDT positivity. The results presented here suggest that caution should be taken when using RDT-derived diagnostic outcomes from cross-sectional data where individuals have had a recent history of anti-malarial treatment.