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Keywords:

  • dengue infection;
  • tourniquet test;
  • WHO;
  • Viet Nam

OBJECTIVES A positive tourniquet test is one of several clinical parameters considered by the World Health Organization to be important in the diagnosis of dengue haemorrhagic fever, but no formal evaluation of the test has been undertaken. As many doctors remain unconvinced of its usefulness, this study was designed to assess the diagnostic utility of both the standard test and a commonly employed modified test.

METHODS A prospective evaluation of the standard sphygmomanometer cuff tourniquet test, compared with a simple elastic cuff tourniquet test, was carried out in 1136 children with suspected dengue infection admitted to a provincial paediatric hospital in southern Viet Nam.

RESULTS There was good agreement between independent observers for both techniques, but the sphygmomanometer method resulted in consistently greater numbers of petechiae. This standard method had a sensitivity of 41.6% for dengue infection, with a specificity of 94.4%, positive predictive value of 98.3% and negative predictive value of 17.3%. The test differentiated poorly between dengue haemorrhagic fever (45% positive) and dengue fever (38% positive). The simple elastic tourniquet was less sensitive than the sphygmomanometer cuff, but at a threshold of 10 petechiae (compared with the WHO recommendation of 20) per 2.5 cm2 the sensitivity for the elastic tourniquet rose to 45% (specificity 85%). Other evidence of bleeding was frequently present and the tourniquet test provided additional information to aid diagnosis in only 5% of cases.

CONCLUSION The conventional tourniquet test adds little to the diagnosis of dengue in hospitalized children. The simple, cheap elastic tourniquet may be useful in diagnosing dengue infection in busy rural health stations in dengue endemic areas of the tropics. A positive test should prompt close observation or early hospital referral, but a negative test does not exclude dengue infection.