Scrub Typhus - Diagnosis

Diagnosis

In endemic areas, diagnosis is generally made on clinical grounds alone. Where there is doubt, the diagnosis may be confirmed by a laboratory test such as serology.

The choice of laboratory test is not straightforward, and all currently available tests have their limitations. The cheapest and most easily available serological test is the Weil-Felix test, but this is notoriously unreliable. The gold standard is indirect immunofluorescence, but the main limitation of this method is the availability of fluorescent microscopes, which are not often available in resource-poor settings where scrub typhus is endemic. Indirect immunoperoxidase (IIP) is a modification of the standard IFA method that can be used with a light microscope, and the results of these tests are comparable to those from IFA. Rapid bedside kits have been described that produce a result within one hour, but the availability of these tests are severely limited by their cost. Serological methods are most reliable when a fourfold-rise in antibody titre is looked for. If the patient is from a non-endemic area, then diagnosis can be made from a single acute serum sample. In patients from endemic areas, this is not possible because antibodies may be found in up to 18% of healthy individuals.

Other methods include culture and PCR, but these are not routinely available and the results do not always correlate with serological testing, and are affected by prior antibiotic treatment. The currently available diagnostic methods have been summarised.

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