Bulletin of the World Health Organization

The laboratory confirmation of suspected measles cases in settings of low measles transmission: conclusions from the experience in the Americas

Vance Dietz, Jennifer Rota, Héctor Izurieta, Peter Carrasco, & William Bellini

ABSTRACT

The Americas have set a goal of interrupting indigenous transmission of measles using a strategy developed by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). This strategy includes recommendations for vaccination activities to achieve and sustain high immunity in the population and is complemented by sensitive epidemiological surveillance systems developed to monitor illnesses characterized by febrile rash, and to provide effective virological and serological surveillance. A key component in ensuring the success of the programme has been a laboratory network comprising 22 national laboratories including reference centres. Commercially available indirect enzyme immunoassay kits (EIA) for immunoglobulin M (IgM)-class antibodies are currently being used throughout the region. However, because there are few or no true measles cases in the region, the positive predictive value of these diagnostic tests has decreased. False-positive results of IgM tests can also occur as a result of testing suspected measles cases with exanthemata caused by Parvovirus B19, rubella and Human herpesvirus 6, among others. In addition, as countries maintain high levels of vaccination activity and increased surveillance of rash and fever, the notification of febrile rash illness in recently vaccinated people can be anticipated. Thus, managers in the measles elimination programme must be prepared to address the interpretation of a positive result of a laboratory test for measles IgM when clinical and epidemiological data may indicate that the case is not measles. The interpretation of an IgM-positive test under different circumstances and the definition of a vaccine-related rash illness in a setting of greatly reduced, or absent, transmission of measles is discussed.

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