A Simple Method to Detect Plasmodium falciparum Directly from Blood Samples Using the Polymerase Chain Reaction

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  • Department of Tropical Public Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Malaria Center, Boston, Massachusetts, Thailand

We have developed a simple method for treating blood samples permitting direct detection of Plasmodium falciparum parasites using the P. falciparum-specific DNA probe pPF14 after polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of target DNA sequences, and have compared this method with microscopic examination of thick blood smears. For PCR amplification, blood samples were lysed, then filtered onto filter paper. After drying, a piece of the filter paper was added directly to the PCR mixture for amplification. The presence of PCR products was detected using nonisotopically labeled probe. This method permits detection of less than than 10 parasites in a 20-µl sample, and minimizes the effects of PCR inhibitors generally found in blood. Samples were collected from patients presenting at malaria clinics in Mae Sod and Mae Ramat, Thailand, and 626 were analyzed both by the PCR method and by conventional microscopy. Of these, 157 were positive both by microscopy and by PCR, while 297 were negative by both methods. PCR detected 131 samples that were negative by microscopy, and failed to detect 41 samples identified as positive by microscopy. All discordant samples were re-analyzed by microscopy and by PCR. Upon re-examination at a higher sensitivity, microscopy identified five additional positive cases, while six previously positive cases were found to be negative. This method of treating blood samples for PCR may also be useful in other diagnostic assays.