Detection of Babesia microti by polymerase chain reaction

D H Persing, D Mathiesen, W F Marshall, S R Telford, A Spielman, J W Thomford, P A Conrad
Journal of Clinical Microbiology 1992, 30 (8): 2097-103
Human babesiosis, which is caused by infection with the intraerythrocytic malarialike protozoan Babesia microti, has recently been diagnosed with increasing frequency in residents of New England. Diagnosis is difficult because of the small size of the parasite and the sparse parasitemia that is characteristic of most infections with this pathogen. We generated B. microti-specific DNA sequence information by universal primer amplification of a portion of the eukaryotic 16S-like gene; this was followed by direct DNA sequence analysis. Specific primers were synthesized on the basis of this sequence information for use in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The PCR-based system demonstrates a strong bias for detection of B. microti as opposed to Babesia gibsoni and does not amplify vertebrate DNA. The analytical sensitivity of the system is approximately three merozoites. Blood specimens from 12 patients with clinically diagnosed and parasitologically confirmed babesiosis from Nantucket Island, Mass., were PCR positive in a blinded test of this procedure. Thus, DNA amplification may provide an adjunct to conventional methods for the diagnosis of human babesiosis and may provide a new means of monitoring therapy or enhancing epidemiological surveillance for this emerging pathogen.

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