An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was developed for the detection of type C botulinum toxin (Clostridium botulinum) in wild birds. This simple, antigen-capture ELISA utilizes polystyrene immunosticks as the solid substrate, chicken antitoxin (IgY) as the coating antibody, rabbit antitoxin as the primary antibody, and peroxidase-labeled goat-anti-rabbit as the secondary antibody. To evaluate the immunostick ELISA as a diagnostic test for avian botulism, known concentrations of toxin were added to heparinized blood collected from healthy birds and tested by both the ELISA and mouse bioassay. Also, blood samples from 236 bird carcasses submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) for cause of death determinations were tested by both procedures. Using ≤ 0.5 ml as the test volume for both procedures, the ELISA was less sensitive, detecting 0.25 ng/ml of toxin compared to 0.12 ng/ml for the mouse bioassay. Using the same volume of test sample for diagnostic submissions (≤ 0.5 ml), the ELISA was positive for 60% of the 149 clinically-diagnosed cases of botulism, whereas the mouse bioassay was positive for 79%. However, we demonstrated that with larger sample volumes (≥ 1.0 ml), the sensitivity of the ELISA may be equivalent or better than the mouse test due to the concentrating effect of the ELISA procedure. These preliminary results suggest that when adequate sample volumes are available, the immunostick ELISA can replace the mouse test for the diagnosis of botulism in wild birds.
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Vol. 34 • No. 4