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Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública

On-line version ISSN 1680-5348Print version ISSN 1020-4989


INIRIDA GUERRERO, Martha; ARIAS, María Teresa; GARCES, María Teresa  and  LEON, Clara Inés. Developing and using a PCR test to detect subclinical Mycobacterium leprae infection. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2002, vol.11, n.4, pp.228-234. ISSN 1680-5348.

Objective. While the prevalence of leprosy has declined around the world, there has not been a corresponding decrease in its incidence, thus indicating that it has not been possible to prevent transmission of the disease. Despite the small number of patients with lepromatous leprosy, the majority of the inhabitants of endemic areas show signs of exposure to Mycobacterium leprae, which could be explained by the presence of subclinical bacilliferous infections in the community. The objective of this study was to investigate the use of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to detect M. leprae in samples of nasal mucus from asymptomatic household contacts of patients with leprosy. Methods. We standardized and optimized a PCR technique to amplify a 321 base pair DNA fragment, using a pair of primers complementary to a segment of an LSR/ A15 gene that codes for the 15 kDa M. leprae antigen. We investigated the optimal concentrations of all the test components. We used dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) to achieve a more specific amplification. We applied the PCR test to 70 healthy household contacts of leprosy patients from eight municipalities in Colombia where there was a high prevalence of the disease. Results. The test's detection limit was 100 fg of DNA. With the optimized technique, bacillus was detected in the nasal mucus samples of 9 (12.8%) of the 70 household contacts. The 3 PCR-positive household contacts of paucibacillary cases were from municipalities with very high prevalence levels. In comparison to contacts who were PCR-negative, the contacts who were PCR-positive had spent significantly less time, as a proportion of their age, living with a patient (P = 0.028). This finding demonstrates the test's capacity for early detection. Conclusions. The PCR test that we developed is useful as a tool for detection and early follow-up of possible leprosy cases. It can be used to monitor high-risk populations and also to maintain the achievements of leprosy elimination programs in countries where the disease's prevalence has been significantly reduced.

Keywords : Lepra; RCP; infección subclinica; vigilancia; eliminación; Colombia.

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