Preventing Parasites and Polio: Identifying rare tropical diseases in a polio lab

Preventing Parasites and Polio: Identifying rare tropical diseases in a polio lab

In the effort to eradicate polio, the World Health Organization established the Global Polio Laboratory Network (GPLN), a network of 145 labs designed to process polio tests. It turns out that these labs are also well-equipped to help tackle neglected tropical diseases, according to new research published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The GPLN labs receive fecal samples from local health clinics where patients have shown signs of polio and carry out culture screens and gene-based tests to diagnose the disease. In the new study, researchers examined the possibility of expanding the tests to include other pathogens of public health importance, specifically soil-transmitted parasitic worms, such as helminths and schistosoma. A pilot study of the expansion was carried out at a GPLN lab in Ghana, where 448 fecal samples were tested for these worms.

The Ghana GPLN lab successfully tested for parasitic worms, finding them in 22 percent of the samples. The design of the study was not suitable to make any epidemiological conclusions, but it did demonstrate the feasibility of adapting a GPLN lab for the detection of parasitic worms.

“The current narrow clinical symptoms required to qualify a sample to be sent to the GPLN limits their epidemiological use,” the researchers say. “The study demonstrates a potential way forward in the monitoring and control of neglected tropical diseases that could be included in the legacy plan of the GPLN.”

Citation: Cunningham LJ, Odoom J, Pratt D, Boatemaa L, Asante-Ntim N, Attiku K, et al. (2018) Expanding molecular diagnostics of helminthiasis: Piloting use of the GPLN platform for surveillance of soil transmitted helminthiasis and schistosomiasis in Ghana. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 12(1): e0006129.

Image Credit:  Lucas Cunningham, 2017


Tessa is the Journal Media Manager at PLOS. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with degrees in Rhetoric and Music. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter at @tessagregs.

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