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Background: Microscopy is the gold standard for malaria diagnosis but is dependent on trained personnel. Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) form the mainstay of diagnosis in endemic areas without access to high-quality microscopy. We aimed to evaluate whether RDT alone could rule out imported malaria in children presenting to UK emergency departments (EDs). Methods: UK-based, multi-center, retrospective, diagnostic accuracy study. Included: any child <16 years presenting to ED with history of fever and travel to a malaria-endemic country, between 01/01/2016 and 31/12/2017. Diagnosis: microscopy for malarial parasites (clinical reference standard) and RDT (index test). UK Health Research Authority approval: 20/HRA/1341. Results: There were 47 cases of malaria out of 1,414 eligible cases (prevalence 3.3%) in a cohort of children whose median age was 4 years (IQR 2-9), of whom 43% were female. Cases of Plasmodium falciparum totaled 36 (77%, prevalence 2.5%). The sensitivity of RDT alone to detect malaria infection due to any Plasmodium species was 93.6% (95% CI 82.5-98.7%), specificity 99.4% (95% CI 98.9-99.7%), positive predictive value 84.6% (95% CI 71.9-93.1%) and negative predictive value 99.8% (95% CI 99.4-100.0%). Sensitivity of RDT to detect P. falciparum infection was 100% (90.3-100%), specificity 98.8% (98.1-99.3%), positive predictive value 69.2% (54.9-81.2%, n = 46/52) and negative predictive value 100% (99.7-100%, n = 1,362/1,362). Conclusions: RDTs were 100% sensitive in detecting P. falciparum malaria. However, lower sensitivity for other malaria species and the rise of pfhrp2 and pfhrp3 (pfhrp2/3) gene deletions in the P. falciparum parasite mandate the continued use of microscopy for diagnosing malaria.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society

Publication Date





290 - 297