Author(s): Frean JA
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Abstract BACKGROUND: Quantitation of malaria parasite density is an important component of laboratory diagnosis of malaria. Microscopy of Giemsa-stained thick blood films is the conventional method for parasite enumeration. Accurate and reproducible parasite counts are difficult to achieve, because of inherent technical limitations and human inconsistency. Inaccurate parasite density estimation may have adverse clinical and therapeutic implications for patients, and for endpoints of clinical trials of anti-malarial vaccines or drugs. Digital image analysis provides an opportunity to improve performance of parasite density quantitation. METHODS: Accurate manual parasite counts were done on 497 images of a range of thick blood films with varying densities of malaria parasites, to establish a uniformly reliable standard against which to assess the digital technique. By utilizing descriptive statistical parameters of parasite size frequency distributions, particle counting algorithms of the digital image analysis programme were semi-automatically adapted to variations in parasite size, shape and staining characteristics, to produce optimum signal/noise ratios. RESULTS: A reliable counting process was developed that requires no operator decisions that might bias the outcome. Digital counts were highly correlated with manual counts for medium to high parasite densities, and slightly less well correlated with conventional counts. At low densities (fewer than 6 parasites per analysed image) signal/noise ratios were compromised and correlation between digital and manual counts was poor. Conventional counts were consistently lower than both digital and manual counts. CONCLUSION: Using open-access software and avoiding custom programming or any special operator intervention, accurate digital counts were obtained, particularly at high parasite densities that are difficult to count conventionally. The technique is potentially useful for laboratories that routinely perform malaria parasite enumeration. The requirements of a digital microscope camera, personal computer and good quality staining of slides are potentially reasonably easy to meet.
This article was published in Malar J
and referenced in Malaria Control & Elimination