The standard method for diagnosing active infection is the identification of microfilariae in a blood smear by microscopic examination. The microfilariae that cause lymphatic filariasis circulate in the blood at night (called nocturnal periodicity). Blood collection should be done at night to coincide with the appearance of the microfilariae, and a thick smear should be made and stained with Giemsa or hematoxylin and eosin. For increased sensitivity, concentration techniques can be used.
Serologic techniques provide an alternative to microscopic detection of microfilariae for the diagnosis of lymphatic filariasis. Patients with active filarial infection typically have elevated levels of antifilarial IgG4 in the blood and these can be detected using routine assays.
Because lymphedema may develop many years after infection, lab tests are most likely to be negative with these patients.
For more information about laboratory diagnosis of filariasis, see the DPDx website:
- Blood specimen collection timing information
- Blood specimen processing (see Special Procedures for Detecting Microfilariae at bottom of page)