INTRODUCTION: Asymptomatic persons infected with the parasites causing visceral leishmaniasis (VL) usually outnumber clinically apparent cases by a ratio of 4-10 to 1. We describe patterns of markers of Leishmania donovani infection and clinical VL in relation to age in Bihar, India.
METHODS: We selected eleven villages highly endemic for Leishmania donovani. During a 1-year interval we conducted two house to house surveys during which we collected blood samples on filter paper from all consenting individuals aged 2 years and above. Samples were tested for anti-leishmania serology by Direct Agglutination Test (DAT) and rK39 ELISA. Data collected during the surveys included information on episodes of clinical VL among study participants.
RESULTS: We enrolled 13,163 persons; 6.2% were reactive to DAT and 5.9% to rK39. Agreement between the tests was weak (kappa = 0.30). Among those who were negative on both tests at baseline, 3.6% had converted to sero-positive on either of the two tests one year later. Proportions of sero-positives and sero-converters increased steadily with age. Clinical VL occurred mainly among children and young adults (median age 19 years).
DISCUSSION: Although infection with L. donovani is assumed to be permanent, serological markers revert to negative. Most VL cases occur at younger ages, yet we observed a steady increase with age in the frequency of sero-positivity and sero-conversion. Our findings can be explained by a boosting effect upon repeated exposure to the parasite or by intermittent release of parasites in infected subjects from safe target cells. A certain proportion of sero-negative subjects could have been infected but below the threshold of antibody abundance for our serologic testing.
- Aged, 80 and over
- Agglutination Tests
- Antibodies, Protozoan/blood
- Asymptomatic Diseases
- Child, Preschool
- Endemic Diseases
- Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
- Leishmania donovani/isolation & purification
- Leishmaniasis, Visceral/epidemiology
- Middle Aged
- Seroepidemiologic Studies
- Young Adult