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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 95-96
State of the globe: What's the right test for diagnosing rickettseal diseases

1 Honourable Fellow of the Academic College of Emergency Experts, Vellore, India
2 Christian Medical College, Vellore, India
3 Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Florida, Jacksonville, USA
4 Department of Emergency Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases, Winter Haven Hospital Division, University of Florida, Jacksonville, USA

Click here for correspondence address and email

Date of Web Publication17-Aug-2016

How to cite this article:
Chanana L, Atre K, Galwankar S, Kelkar D. State of the globe: What's the right test for diagnosing rickettseal diseases. J Global Infect Dis 2016;8:95-6

How to cite this URL:
Chanana L, Atre K, Galwankar S, Kelkar D. State of the globe: What's the right test for diagnosing rickettseal diseases. J Global Infect Dis [serial online] 2016 [cited 2022 Jan 18];8:95-6. Available from:

The differential diagnosis of fever in the tropical world has to include Rickettsial diseases, apart from usual malaria, dengue, enteric fever, leptospirosis, and viral hemorrhagic fevers. Diagnostic tests play an essential role in stratifying, ruling out, and monitoring infectious diseases.

Multiple studies have been done to evaluate various types of diagnostic tests. Multiple investigations have been done to define the specificity and sensitivity of each of these tests. There are also a large number of comparative studies to establish the advantages and disadvantages and strengths and weaknesses of one test over the other.

When searched in PubMed, there was a little paucity of research regards studies on diagnostic tests in Rickettsial Diseases. Shivalli states in her article that there is a rising frequency of scrub typhus outbreaks and because it has overlapping clinical symptoms with malaria, leptospirosis, dengue fever, etc., the diagnosis of scrub typhus is based on laboratory tests or even the presence of a classical "eschar" could be quite convincing, but the major drawback is missing one as the native population has dark skin. [1]

In 2015, the Department of Health Research and Indian Council for Medical Research published Guidelines for Management of Rickettsial diseases in India. [2]

In these guidelines, four major diagnostic tests were highlighted namely:

  1. Weil-Felix
  2. IgM and IgG ELISA
  3. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  4. Immunofluorescence assay (IFA).

All the four tests are valuable in diagnosing Rickettsial diseases.

The current literature suggests that IFA is the gold standard test, but the most commonly used test in diagnosing scrub typhus in India is IgM ELISA. [2],[3] Although Weil-Felix is a heterophile antibody test that is easily available, inexpensive, and useful for diagnosing Rickettsial diseases, the only challenge is that it has to be carried out after 5-7 days of onset of fever. There is also baseline variability across regions, and standardization studies are needed to decide on titers for disease identification. IgM and IgG ELISA suffer from the same challenge of regional variability but offer two-step diagnostic benefit because the IgM is positive at the end of the 1 st week while the IgG becomes positive by the end of the 2 nd week. PCR is positive within the 1 st week, but the gold standard is the IFA. Cost is the major factor. [2]

A study done by Paris and Dumler concluded that the ELISA and the Nucleic Acid Amplification Assays are now replacing the indirect IFA. This will help to recognize early infection, thus helping early intervention. [4]

In 2015, a PLos One article evaluated the Scrub Typhus Infection Criteria (STIC). STIC included a combination of culture, PCR assays, and IFA. Lim et al. evaluated these criteria using Bayesian latent class models. They effectively concluded that STIC had very low specificity and they inferred that the IFA IgM was the main cause of the same due to its own virtue of being a very weak specific test. This study highlighted the need for increased volume of research in scrub typhus diagnostics. [5] The main drawback of IFA method is the inaccessibility to fluorescent microscopes in underprivileged setups where the disease is often endemic. Indirect immunoperoxidase, a variation of the standard IFA method, can be used with a light microscope, and the results of these tests are equivalent to those from IFA. [6],[7]

Another study concluded that the Weil-Felix test had a poor sensitivity hence lacked the capability to be a routine diagnostic test. It was found that IgM ELISA was a better substitute for IFA. [8] Rapid bedside kits have been described that give results within 1 h, but the availability of these tests is severely limited by their cost. [9]

Duration of illness, type of tests available in the community, affordability, and ruling out malaria typhoid dengue, and other causes of acute undifferentiated febrile illness are factors which play into the capability of interpreting tests results when it comes to scrub typhus.

The era of point of care test for diagnosing scrub typhus is yet to come. Until then, clinical medicine and the art of exclusion of differential diagnoses will play an important role in diagnosis and management of scrub typhus.

   References Top

Shivalli S. Diagnostic evaluation of rapid tests for scrub typhus in the Indian population is needed. Infect Dis Poverty 2016;5:40.  Back to cited text no. 1
Rahi M, Gupte MD, Bhargava A, Varghese GM, Arora R. DHR-ICMR Guidelines for diagnosis & management of Rickettsial diseases in India. Indian J Med Res 2015;141:417-22.  Back to cited text no. 2
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Blacksell SD, Bryant NJ, Paris DH, Doust JA, Sakoda Y, Day NP. Scrub typhus serologic testing with the indirect immunofluorescence method as a diagnostic gold standard: A lack of consensus leads to a lot of confusion. Clin Infect Dis 2007;44:391-401.  Back to cited text no. 3
Paris DH, Dumler JS. State of the art of diagnosis of rickettsial diseases: The use of blood specimens for diagnosis of scrub typhus, spotted fever group rickettsiosis, and murine typhus. Curr Opin Infect Dis 2016. [Epub ahead of print].  Back to cited text no. 4
Lim C, Paris DH, Blacksell SD, Laongnualpanich A, Kantipong P, Chierakul W, et al. How to determine the accuracy of an alternative diagnostic test when it is actually better than the reference tests: A re-evaluation of diagnostic tests for scrub typhus using Bayesian LCMs. PLoS One 2015;10:e0114930.  Back to cited text no. 5
Yamamoto S, Minamishima Y. Serodiagnosis of tsutsugamushi fever (Scrub typhus) by the indirect immunoperoxidase technique. J Clin Microbiol 1982;15:1128-32.  Back to cited text no. 6
Kelly DJ, Wong PW, Gan E, Lewis GE Jr. Comparative evaluation of the indirect immunoperoxidase test for the serodiagnosis of rickettsial disease. Am J Trop Med Hyg 1988;38:400-6.  Back to cited text no. 7
Koraluru M, Bairy I, Varma M, Vidyasagar S. Diagnostic validation of selected serological tests for detecting scrub typhus. Microbiol Immunol 2015;59:371-4.  Back to cited text no. 8
Pradutkanchana J, Silpapojakul K, Paxton H, Pradutkanchana S, Kelly DJ, Strickman D. Comparative evaluation of four serodiagnostic tests for scrub typhus in Thailand. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg 1997;91:425-8.  Back to cited text no. 9

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Lakshay Chanana
Honourable Fellow of the Academic College of Emergency Experts, Vellore
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0974-777X.188581

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2008 Journal of Global Infectious Diseases | Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow
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