Malaria Diagnosis: What Tests are Available and How Accurate are They?

Malaria Diagnosis

How is the PCR test more accurate than other malaria diagnosis tests?

What is Malaria and Malaria Diagnosis?

Malaria is a serious, life-threatening disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. It is one of the world’s most common infectious diseases and is largely found in tropical and sub-tropical climates, including parts of the United States. The disease can cause fever, chills, nausea, anemia and other serious symptoms, which left untreated can lead to death. An accurate diagnosis of malaria is paramount to successful treatment.

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Diagnostic Tests Available For Malaria

In diagnosing malaria, health care providers may employ several types of tests. The most common tests include:

  • Thin or Thick Blood Smear – This test is performed by taking a sample of the patient’s blood and spreading it on a slide. The slide is then viewed under a microscope to look for parasites present in the red blood cells.
  • Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) – RDTs are a faster, easier form of diagnosis which can be rapidly performed in minutes. These tests use a sample of blood to look for antigens associated with the parasite.
  • Molecular Diagnostic Tests – These tests use a sample of the patient’s blood or saliva to look for genetic material from the malaria parasite.

How Accurate are the Diagnostic Tests?

The accuracy of malaria diagnostic tests can vary depending on factors such as the experience of the health care provider, the quality of the testing equipment, and the type of test performed. However, most tests have high levels of accuracy and can diagnose malaria in its early stages.

For example, the thin or thick blood smear test is the gold standard for a malaria diagnosis and has an accuracy of 98%, while RDTs have an accuracy of 98-99%. Molecular diagnostic tests are highly accurate with one study finding that they are 95-100% accurate depending on the type of test used.


Accurate diagnosis of malaria is essential for successful treatment and can help prevent its spread. Health care providers have several tests available to diagnose malaria, including the thin or thick blood smear test, the rapid diagnostic test (RDTs) and molecular diagnostic tests. The accuracy of these tests can vary, however most tests are highly accurate when conducted properly.