The sensitivity and specificity of Leishmania chagasi recombinant K39 antigen in the diagnosis of American visceral leishmaniasis and in differentiating active from subclinical infection.

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  • 1 Department of Microbiology and Parasitology, Universidade Federal Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.

The sensitivity and specificity of a Leishmania chagasi recombinant K39 (rK39)-based enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for visceral leishmaniasis (VL) was assessed in Natal, Brazil. Anti-rK39 antibodies were detected in 93.3% of patients with parasitologically confirmed VL (n = 120) and in 33 others with clinically diagnosed disease. Anti-rK39 antibodies decreased significantly following treatment. The presence of antibodies was inversely correlated with development of a positive leishmanin skin test result. Anti-rK39 antibodies were detected in only 2.9% of asymptomatic subjects with a positive skin test result (n = 168). They were not detected in healthy controls (n = 30) or in persons with Chagas' disease (n = 13) or active tuberculosis (n = 31). Antibodies were found in only one of 13 patients with cutaneous leishmaniasis. In contrast, an ELISA using total L. chagasi promastigote antigen was sensitive, but not specific. The results indicate that the rK39-based ELISA is a sensitive and specific diagnostic test for symptomatic VL and can differentiate progressive from self-resolving infection.

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