Validation of a novel saliva-based ELISA test for diagnosing tapeworm burden in horses

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Abstract

Background

Tapeworm infections pose a significant threat to equine health as they are associated with clinical cases of colic. Diagnosis of tapeworm burden using fecal egg counts (FECs) is unreliable, and, although a commercial serologic ELISA for anti-tapeworm antibodies is available, it requires a veterinarian to collect the blood sample. A reliable diagnostic test using an owner-accessible sample such as saliva could provide a cost-effective alternative for tapeworm testing in horses, and allow targeted deworming strategies.

Objectives

The purpose of the study was to statistically validate a saliva tapeworm ELISA test and compare to a tapeworm-specific IgG(T) serologic ELISA.

Methods

Serum samples (139) and matched saliva samples (104) were collected from horses at a UK abattoir. The ileocecal junction and cecum were visually examined for tapeworms and any present were counted. Samples were analyzed using a serologic ELISA and the saliva tapeworm test. The test results were compared to tapeworm numbers and the various data sets were statistically analyzed.

Results

Saliva scores had strong positive correlations with both infection intensity (0.74) and serologic results (Spearman's rank coefficients; 0.74 and 0.86, respectively). The saliva tapeworm test was capable of identifying the presence of one or more tapeworms with 83% sensitivity and 85% specificity. Importantly, no high-burden (more than 20 tapeworms) horses were misdiagnosed.

Conclusions

The saliva tapeworm test has statistical accuracy for detecting tapeworm burdens in horses with 83% sensitivity and 85% specificity, similar to those of the serologic ELISA (85% and 78%, respectively).

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