Surveillance and control activities related to bovine tuberculosis (TB) in free-ranging, Michigan white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have been underway for over a decade, with significant progress. However, foci of higher TB prevalence on private lands and limited agency ability to eliminate them using broad control strategies have led to development and trial of new control strategies, such as live trapping, testing, and culling or release. Such strategies require a prompt, accurate live animal test, which has thus far been lacking. We report here the ability of seven candidate blood assays to determine the TB infection status of Michigan deer. Our aims were twofold: to characterize the accuracy of the tests using field-collected samples and to evaluate the feasibility of the tests for use in a test-and-cull strategy. Samples were collected from 760 deer obtained via five different surveys conducted between 2004 and 2007. Blood samples were subjected to one or more of the candidate blood assays and evaluated against the results of mycobacterial culture of the cranial lymph nodes. Sensitivities of the tests ranged from 46% to 68%, whereas specificities and negative predictive values were all >92%. Positive predictive values were highly variable. An exploratory analysis of associations among several host and sampling-related factors and the agreement between blood assay and culture results suggested these assays were minimally affected. This study demonstrated the capabilities and limitations of several available blood tests for Mycobacterium bovis on specimens obtained through a variety of field surveillance methods. Although these blood assays cannot replace mass culling, information on their performance may prove useful as wildlife disease managers develop innovative methods of detecting infected animals where mass culling is publicly unacceptable and cannot be used as a control strategy.
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