Serological test performance for bovine tuberculosis in cattle from herds with evidence of on-going infection in Northern Ireland

Lyanne McCallan, Cathy Brooks, Claire Barry, Catherine Couzens, Fiona J Young, Jim McNair, Andrew W Byrne

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The ability to accurately identify infected hosts is the cornerstone of effective disease control and eradication programs. In the case of bovine tuberculosis, accurately identifying infected individual animals has been challenging as all available tests exhibit limited discriminatory ability. Here we assess the utility of two serological tests (IDEXX Mycobacterium bovis Ab test and Enfer multiplex antibody assay) and assess their performance relative to skin test (Single Intradermal Comparative Cervical Tuberculin; SICCT), gamma-interferon (IFNγ) and post-mortem results in a Northern Ireland setting. Furthermore, we describe a case-study where one test was used in conjunction with statutory testing. Serological tests using samples taken prior to SICCT disclosed low proportions of animals as test positive (mean 3% positive), despite the cohort having high proportions with positive SICCT test under standard interpretation (121/921; 13%) or IFNγ (365/922; 40%) results. Furthermore, for animals with a post-mortem record (n = 286), there was a high proportion with TB visible lesions (27%) or with laboratory confirmed infection (25%). As a result, apparent sensitivities within this cohort was very low (≤15%), however the tests succeeded in achieving very high specificities (96-100%). During the case-study, 7/670 (1.04%) samples from SICCT negative animals from a large chronically infected herd were serology positive, with a further 17 animals being borderline positive (17/670; 2.54%). Nine of the borderline animals were voluntarily removed, none of which were found to be infected post-mortem (no lesions/bacteriology negative). One serology test negative animal was subsequently found to have lesions at slaughter with M. bovis confirmed in the laboratory.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0245655
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Early online date13 Apr 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 13 Apr 2021


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