Brucella abortus has been an important wildlife disease issue for most of the last century, especially because wildlife species are considered to be important disease reservoirs for cattle. Diagnostic uncertainty, caused in part by cross-reactions of antibodies to environmental pathogens such as Yersinia enterocolitica O:9 on standard Brucella serology, has exacerbated the challenges of managing the disease and has highlighted the need for test validation in wildlife species. The western immunoblot was evaluated for use in detecting B. abortus exposure in elk (Cervus elaphus) and for ruling out exposure to cross-reacting bacteria. Samples collected from 2003 to 2006, including 54 female and immature elk from four different elk herds, were tested using standard Brucella serologic methods (card, rapid automated presumptive [RAP], and rivanol tests), as well as the western immunoblot. Samples (n=28) from animals known to be naturally infected with B. abortus biovar 1 served as positive controls. For presumed negative samples, sera (n=26) were collected from two elk herds in which negative serologic tests, and the absence of clinical signs of disease such as abortions, supported Brucella-negative classification. In addition to these study samples, serologic data from 12 tule elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes) were provided from the California Department of Fish and Game in order to illustrate a field application of the western blot. The western immunoblot had the highest sensitivity (1.0;% 0.899–1.0) and specificity (1.0; 0.891–1.0) among all tests used in the study. The Kappa statistic for agreement between the western blot and the card, rivanol, and RAP tests were 0.701, 0.808, and 0.921, respectively, showing good to excellent agreement with the standard diagnostic tests currently in use. Although the western immunoblot is more expensive and time intensive than other tests, in this limited study, it was shown to be reliable for establishing and confirming B. abortus disease status in elk. In addition to this study, subsequent applications of the western blot assay have been successful in detecting Yersinia sp. exposure in elk after their antibodies cross-reacted on standard Brucella serology.
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Vol. 46 • No. 1