Revisiting the role of the slit-skin smear in the diagnosis of Indian post-kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis.

Research paper by Aradhana A Bhargava, V V Ramesh, Sandeep S Verma, Poonam P Salotra, Manju M Bala

Indexed on: 31 Jul '18Published on: 31 Jul '18Published in: Indian journal of dermatology, venereology and leprology


Post kala azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL) is a neglected dermatosis that develops as a sequel to kala azar after apparent complete treatment. Being a non life threatening condition, patients often delay treatment thereby maintaining a reservoir of infection. The diagnosis of PKDL rests on the demonstration of the parasite in tissue smears, immune diagnosis by detection of parasite antigen or antibody in blood, or detection and quantitation of parasite DNA in tissue specimens. Sophisticated molecular tests are not only expensive but also need skilled hands and expensive equipment. To be useful, diagnostic methods must be accurate, simple and affordable for the population for which they are intended. This study was designed to assess functionality and operational feasibility of slit-skin smear examination. Sensitivity and specificity was evaluated by performing slit-skin smear and histo-pathological examination in 46 PKDL patients and the results were compared with the parasite load in both the slit aspirate and tissue biopsy specimens by performing quantitative Real-time PCR (Q-PCR). The slit-skin smear examination was more sensitive than tissue biopsy microscopy. The parasite loads significantly differed among various types of clinical lesions (P < 0.05). The threshold of parasite load for detection by SSS microscopy was 4 parasites/μl in slit aspirate and 60 parasites/μg tissue DNA in tissue biopsy while that for tissue microscopy was 63 parasites/μl and 502 parasites/μg tissue DNA respectively. As detection of Leishmania donovani bodies may be challenging in inexperienced hands, the microscopic structure of these has been detailed along with a comprehensive discussion of pre analytical, analytical and post analytical variables affecting its identification. To facilitate the diagnosis of PKDL, some scenarios have been suggested taking into consideration the clinical, epidemiological, immunological and microscopic aspects. Such evidence based medicine helps minimize intuition, systematize clinical experience and provides a diagnostic rationale as sufficient grounds for a clinical decision.