Molecular diagnosis of scabies using a novel probe-based polymerase chain reaction assay targeting high-copy number repetitive sequences in the Sarcoptes scabiei genome

Lena Chng, Deborah C. Holt, Matt Field, Joshua R. Francis, Dev Tilakaratne, Milou H. Dekkers, Greg Robinson, Kate Mounsey, Rebecca Pavlos, Asha C. Bowen, Katja Fischer, Anthony T. Papenfuss, Robin B. Gasser, Pasi K. Korhonen, Bart J. Currie, James S. McCarthy, Cielo Pasay

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Background The suboptimal sensitivity and specificity of available diagnostic methods for scabies ham-pers clinical management, trials of new therapies and epidemiologic studies. Additionally, parasitologic diagnosis by microscopic examination of skin scrapings requires sample collection with a sharp scalpel blade, causing discomfort to patients and difficulty in children. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based diagnostic assays, combined with non-invasive sampling methods, represent an attractive approach. In this study, we aimed to develop a real-time probe-based PCR test for scabies, test a non-invasive sampling method and eval-uate its diagnostic performance in two clinical settings.

Methodology/Principal findings High copy-number repetitive DNA elements were identified in draft Sarcoptes scabiei genome sequences and used as assay targets for diagnostic PCR. Two suitable repetitive DNA sequences, a 375 base pair microsatellite (SSR5) and a 606 base pair long tandem repeat (SSR6), were identified. Diagnostic sensitivity and specificity were tested using relevant positive and negative control materials and compared to a published assay targeting the mitochondrial cox1 gene. Both assays were positive at a 1:100 dilution of DNA from a single mite; no amplification was observed in DNA from samples from 19 patients with other skin conditions nor from house dust, sheep or dog mites, head and body lice or from six common skin bacterial and fungal species. Moderate sensitivity of the assays was achieved in a pilot study, detecting 5/7 (71.4% [95% CI: 29.0%-96.3%]) of clinically diagnosed untreated scabies patients). Greater sensitivity was observed in samples collected by FLOQ swabs compared to skin scrapings. 

Conclusions/Significance This newly developed qPCR assay, combined with the use of an alternative non-invasive swab sampling technique offers the possibility of enhanced diagnosis of scabies. Further studies will be required to better define the diagnostic performance of these tests.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0009149
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2021


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