As the need for rapid malaria testing grows, the number of testing kit manufacturers also grows. However, which kit would you literally trust your patient’s life with?
Today’s modern rapid testing kits often much more sensitive and specific than the traditional blood smear. In fact, when properly used a quality test kit will typically indicate a positive result well before the parasite load is high enough to cause significant illness.
As with many commercial test kits, imaging studies and point of care tests, clinical suspicion is paramount in result interpretation. A negative result with a high index of suspicion should be repeated in 24-36 hours and preferably during a febrile episode.
A good place to start researching the differences between the commercially available testing kits is here at the World Health Organization book that evaluates which ones are superior:
Lastly, I want to reiterate the Golden Rule of Malaria: Fever in a malaria zone is malaria until proven otherwise.
For travelers headed to malaria endemic areas I have always liked the A-B-C-D approach to malaria prevention:
A = Awareness of malaria in the locations you are traveling. Know the species, the medications and where to go for help, locally
B = Bite prevention or specifically mosquito bite prevention. This centers on long sleeves and long pants, using 30-35% DEET on the skin and Permethrin treated clothing
C = Chemoprophylaxis or taking a medicine to prevent being sick. Know the correct medicine for your destination and check with a travel medicine professional before you go!
D = Diagnosis and recognizing the symptoms of malaria. Fever, muscle aches and fatigue are very common. Do not delay seeking medical care if you think you have malaria!