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AMD Project: Transforming Parasite Diagnostics

This Giemsa-stained light photomicrograph revealed the presence of two Trypanosoma brucei parasites, which were found in a blood smear.

Parasitic diseases can be difficult to diagnose because they can cause an array of symptoms. With AMD, CDC is developing diagnostic tools for parasites, such as Trypanosoma brucei, which causes sleeping sickness.

Developing a broadly specific parasite diagnostic tool

Wily parasites have devised a variety of ways to infect human hosts, invading our bodies through contaminated foods or unfiltered drinking water, insect bites, unprotected sex, or even directly through our skin. Once parasites get inside our bodies, they can cause an array of conditions including severe diarrhea, neurological disorders, skin ulcers, systemic disease, encephalitis, and sometimes death.

While parasitic diseases occur most often in people living in the tropics and subtropics, we are seeing increasing numbers of rare parasitic infections in people returning to the United States from foreign travel. Proper diagnosis is an essential first step to getting the appropriate treatment and control. Effective parasite diagnostic tools are a critical component of a strong public health system. However, current methods of parasite diagnosis are outdated, labor-intensive, and are often not able to determine which parasite is making someone sick.

To improve parasitic disease identification, CDC scientists are developing new and better diagnostics through advanced molecular detection (AMD) methods. In this project, CDC is using next generation sequencing and basic bioinformatics to develop a sensitive diagnostic test capable of detecting and identifying any parasites in a patient’s clinical sample (e.g., stool, blood, etc.). This Universal Parasite Diagnostic assay, or UPDx, will be efficient, easy to use, and have incredible potential to revolutionize the field of parasite diagnostics. Integration of this AMD tool into our arsenal of public health diagnostic tools will give us the ability to rapidly and effectively diagnose parasitic diseases and ensure the health and safety of the American people.

Download a print-only PDF fact sheet [2 pages]