Quantitative PCR in Epidemiology for Early Detection of Visceral Leishmaniasis Cases in India

Citation: Sudarshan M, Singh T, Singh AK, Chourasia A, Singh B, et al. (2014) Quantitative PCR in Epidemiology for Early Detection of Visceral Leishmaniasis Cases in India. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 8(12): e3366. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0003366
Published: December 11, 2014

Introduction: Studies employing serological, DTH or conventional PCR techniques suggest a vast proportion of Leishmania infected individuals living in regions endemic for Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL) remain asymptomatic. This study was designed to assess whether quantitative PCR (qPCR) can be used for detection of asymptomatic or early Leishmania donovani infection and as a predictor of progression to symptomatic disease.
Methods: The study included 1469 healthy individuals living in endemic region (EHC) including both serology-positive and -negative subjects. TaqMan based qPCR assay was done on peripheral blood of each subject using kDNA specific primers and probes.
Results: A large proportion of EHC 511/1469 (34.78%) showed qPCR positivity and 56 (3.81% of 1469 subjects) had more than 1 calculated parasite genome/ml of blood. However, the number of individuals with parasite load above 5 genomes/ml was only 20 (1.36% of 1469). There was poor agreement between serological testing and qPCR (k = 0.1303), and 42.89% and 31.83% EHC were qPCR positive in seropositive and seronegative groups, respectively. Ten subjects had developed to symptomatic VL after 12 month of their follow up examination, of which eight were initially positive according to qPCR and among these, five had high parasite load.
Discussion: Thus, qPCR can help us to detect significant early parasitaemia, thereby assisting us in recognition of potential progressors to clinical disease. This test could facilitate early intervention, decreased morbidity and mortality, and possibly interruption of disease transmission.

Author Summary: Anthroponotic VL caused by Leishmania donovani in the Indian subcontinent accounts for 70% of the world burden of VL. Among the estimated 100,000 cases of VL acquired annually in India, 90% occur in the state of Bihar. Leishmania infection can result in either symptomatic or asymptomatic infection. L. donovani infection can also manifest as post-kala azar dermal leishmaniasis, a chronic cutaneous form thought to provide the reservoir for anthroponotic transmission of VL in regions endemic for this parasite species. We hypothesized that, in areas endemic for L. donovani, asymptomatic infections might also play a crucial role in disease transmission. This study describes use of quantitative PCR (qPCR) to determine the infection status in individuals living in an endemic region of India. We hypothesized that parasite load estimation by qPCR of peripheral blood cells among healthy individuals living in the endemic region might reveal the true frequency of infections through direct evidence of parasitemia. We reasoned this test would detect both asymptomatic non-progressors as well as asymptomatic individuals who will progress to fully symptomatic VL. Serologic testing by ELISA or DAT showed poor agreement with molecular detection of parasite DNA by qPCR, suggesting the tests differentiate between infection and immune response. Amongst ten healthy individuals who progressed to VL, only six were serologically positive whereas eight were initially qPCR positive, among whom five had high parasite loads in their blood. Thus, deployment of qPCR technique to estimate the presence and level of parasitemia in healthy individuals from Leishmania endemic regions may contribute to early case detection, thereby reducing morbidity and mortality. Consistent with the goals of the VL control and elimination program, this early intervention approach could help interrupt disease transmission.


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