Clinical Performance of Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction for Strongyloides stercoralis Compared with Serology in a Nonendemic Setting

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  • 1 NSW Health Pathology, Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Concord Repatriation and General Hospital, Concord, Australia;
  • | 2 Concord Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia;
  • | 3 School of Molecular and Biosciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
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Strongyloides stercoralis is a nematode endemic to subtropical and tropical regions that may cause asymptomatic carriage, peripheral eosinophilia, cutaneous, gastrointestinal, and pulmonary disease, or hyperinfection syndrome. Conventional diagnostic methods for strongyloidiasis include feces microscopy and culture, with low sensitivity in chronic infection due to the low helminth burden, and serology, which may be prone to false-negative results with immunocompromise and false-positive results with other infections and immunological disorders. We evaluated a laboratory-developed real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), detecting the 18S SSU ribosomal RNA gene, compared with conventional diagnostic methods, using serology via ELISA as the gold-standard. The population studied included tertiary hospital inpatients and outpatients residing in a nonendemic area. Seven hundred fifty unfixed stool specimens submitted sequentially between 2014 and 2018 were tested for S. stercoralis via microscopy and RT-PCR. Agar plate culture (APC), Harada-Mori culture (HMC), and ELISA were performed in conjunction with 141, 135, and 177 of the specimens, respectively. RT-PCR yielded 13 positive and 730 negative results, with inhibition in seven specimens. ELISA yielded 53 positive, 18 equivocal, and 106 negative results. Results for direct diagnostic methods obtained after treatment with ivermectin were excluded from the performance analysis. Compared with ELISA, RT-PCR, microscopy, APC, and HMC exhibited sensitivities of 38%, 6%, 3%, and 0%, respectively, and specificities of 100%. Given the low sensitivities commensurate with testing a population with remote infection and thus low parasite burden, we recommend a combination of serological and molecular diagnostic testing to achieve the best balance of sensitivity and specificity.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Genevieve McKew, Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Concord Repatriation and General Hospital, Hospital Rd., Concord NSW, Australia 2139. E-mail: genevieve.mckew@health.nsw.gov.au

Disclosures: Ethical approval was obtained from the Ethics Committee of Sydney Local Health District, Concord office. Approval numbers in the ethics management system REGIS are 2019/ETH08025 and 2019/STE09630.

Authors’ addresses: Christopher Swan, Department of Microbiology, NSW Health Pathology, Royal North Shore Hospital, Herbert St., St. Leonards, NSW, Australia 2065, E-mail: christopher.swan@health.nsw.gov.au. Thuy Phan and Genevieve McKew, Department of Microbiology, NSW Health Pathology, Concord Repatriation and General Hospital, Hospital Rd., Concord, NSW, Australia 2139, E-mails: thuy.phan@health.nsw.gov.au and genevieve.mckew@health.nsw.gov.au.

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