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Evaluation of the diagnostic utility of the traditional and revised WHO dengue case definitions.

Abstract

Dengue, a mosquito-borne viral illness, is a major public health problem worldwide, and its incidence continues to increase. In 2009, the World Health Organization published guidelines that included a revision of the dengue case definition. Compared to the traditional definition, the revised case definition relies more on signs than on symptoms, making it more applicable to young children. We evaluated the diagnostic utility of both case definitions in two studies of pediatric dengue in Managua, Nicaragua. In a community-based cohort study, we included data from 3,407 suspected dengue cases, of which 476 were laboratory-confirmed. In the second study, we collected information from 1,160 participants recruited at the national pediatric reference hospital (723 laboratory-confirmed). In the cohort study, the traditional definition had 89.3% sensitivity and 43.1% specificity, while the revised definition yielded similar sensitivity (86.6%) and higher specificity (55.2%, p<0.001). In the hospital study, the traditional case definition yielded 96.7% sensitivity and 22.0% specificity, whereas the revised case definition had higher sensitivity (99.3%, p<0.001) but lower specificity (8.5%, p<0.001). We then evaluated the performance of two diagnostic models based on the signs/symptoms included in each definition by analyzing the effect of increasing numbers of signs/symptoms on the sensitivity and specificity of case capture. Receiver operating characteristic analysis showed a slightly better performance for the revised model in both studies. Interestingly, despite containing less symptoms that cannot be readily expressed by children aged less than 4 years, the revised definition did not perform better in this age group. Overall, our results indicate that both case definitions have similar capacity to diagnose dengue. Owing to their high sensitivity and low specificity, they should be primarily used for screening purposes. However, in a primary care setting, neither of the case definitions performed well as a screening test in younger children.

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