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Appropriate diagnostic techniques are crucial to global soil-transmitted helminth (STH) control efforts. The recommended Kato–Katz method has low sensitivity in low-transmission settings. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) is a highly sensitive alternative diagnostic option. However, little is known about the variability in qPCR results, and there are few published comparisons between qPCR and other microscopy-based techniques such as sodium nitrate flotation (SNF). Using 865 stool samples collected from 571 individuals, we compared SNF and qPCR in terms of diagnostic sensitivity and infection intensity measurements. In addition, we conducted repeated examinations on a single Necator americanus–positive stool sample over a 6-month period. Results showed good diagnostic agreement between SNF and qPCR for Ascaris spp. (κ = 0.69, P < 0.001), and moderate agreement for hookworm (κ = 0.55, P < 0.001) and Trichuris spp. (κ = 0.50, P < 0.001). Quantitative polymerase chain reaction demonstrated higher sensitivity than SNF for Ascaris spp. (94.1% versus 68.1%) and hookworm (75.7% versus 66.9%) but not for Trichuris spp. (53.1% versus 81.3%), which had very low prevalence. Sodium nitrate flotation and qPCR infection intensity measurements were strongly correlated for Ascaris spp. (ρ = 0.82, P < 0.001) and moderately correlated for hookworm (ρ = 0.58, P < 0.001). Repeated examinations using qPCR showed that N. americanus cycle threshold values decreased significantly at 1 month and remained stable thereafter. Results confirm the high diagnostic sensitivity of qPCR for Ascaris spp. and hookworm, particularly for light-intensity infections, which is ideal for settings approaching transmission elimination. Results support the potential for qPCR to be used as a quantitative assay for STH. Further research is needed in settings where Trichuris trichiura is endemic.
Financial support: This work was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle, WA (grant number OPP1119041).
Authors’ addresses: Naomi E. Clarke and Alice Richardson, Research School of Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, E-mails: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Stacey Llewellyn and James McCarthy, Clinical Tropical Medicine Laboratory, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, Australia, E-mails: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Rebecca J. Traub, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, E-mail: email@example.com. Susana V. Nery, Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.