Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 20552035
PLoS ONE 2010;5(6):e11086
Meningococcal meningitis outbreaks occur every year during the dry season in the “meningitis belt” of sub-Saharan Africa. Identification of the causative strain is crucial before launching mass vaccination campaigns, to assure use of the correct vaccine. Rapid agglutination (latex) tests are most commonly available in district-level laboratories at the beginning of the epidemic season; limitations include a short shelf-life and the need for refrigeration and good technical skills. Recently, a new dipstick rapid diagnostic test (RDT) was developed to identify and differentiate disease caused by meningococcal serogroups A, W135, C and Y. We evaluated the diagnostic performance of this dipstick RDT during an urban outbreak of meningitis caused by N. meningitidis serogroup A in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; first against an in-country reference standard of culture and/or multiplex PCR; and second against culture and/or a highly sensitive nested PCR technique performed in Oslo, Norway. We included 267 patients with suspected acute bacterial meningitis. Using the in-country reference standard, 50 samples (19%) were positive. Dipstick RDT sensitivity (N = 265) was 70% (95%CI 55-82) and specificity 97% (95%CI 93-99). Using culture and/or nested PCR, 126/259 (49%) samples were positive; dipstick RDT sensitivity (N = 257) was 32% (95%CI 24-41), and specificity was 99% (95%CI 95-100). We found dipstick RDT sensitivity lower than values reported from (i) assessments under ideal laboratory conditions (>90%), and (ii) a prior field evaluation in Niger [89% (95%CI 80-95)]. Specificity, however, was similar to (i), and higher than (ii) [62% (95%CI 48-75)]. At this stage in development, therefore, other tests (e.g., latex) might be preferred for use in peripheral health centres. We highlight the value of field evaluations for new diagnostic tests, and note relatively low sensitivity of a reference standard using multiplex vs. nested PCR. Although the former is the current standard for bacterial meningitis surveillance in the meningitis belt, nested PCR performed in a certified laboratory should be used as an absolute reference when evaluating new diagnostic tests.