A comparison of ML Flow serology and slit skin smears to assess the bacterial load in newly diagnosed leprosy patients in Brazil.
INTRODUCTION: The ML Flow test is an immunochromatographic assay that detects IgM antibodies against M. leprae-specific anti-phenolic glycolipid I (PGL-I). In addition to slit skin smears stained by the Ziehl-Neelsen technique, it can be helpful in the operational classification of leprosy patients for treatment purposes.
OBJECTIVE: This work studied the relationship between antibody levels as detected by semi-quantitative ML Flow serologic test and bacterial load as quantified by slit skin smear.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: 135 patients with newly detected leprosy at the reference service in Sanitary Dermatology in Brazil had slit skin smears (registered as bacillary index - BI) and an ML Flow test (registered qualitatively and semi-quantitatively) performed at admission. A logistic regression and agreement measures (kappa index) were calculated.
RESULTS: Slit skin smears were positive in 35.9% of patients and 57% of patients were seropositive for PGL-1 antibodies. Among the seropositive patients, 416% had five or fewer skin lesions, and 65.8% had more than one peripheral nerve involved. Slit skin smears were positive in only three seronegative patients (5.6%), and negative in 41.9% of seropositive patients. Patients with a BI of 4 + had an OR of 33 for being seropositive in comparison to those with a low BI.
CONCLUSIONS: There is a correlation between serologic test and slit skin smear results. Therefore, an ML Flow test may become a useful tool in the clinical classification of leprosy, besides slit skin smears, which require a proper laboratory infrastructure and experienced personnel.