Tuberculosis (TB) in deer is a serious zoonotic disease of worldwide distribution. Detection of infected animals is usually performed using single or comparative skin-testing (SST/CST), although false responses due to sensitization to other mycobacteria may occur, hampering diagnostic specificity. We describe the evolution of the responses to the SST, CST and to an in-house serological assay in a red deer farm subjected to regular TB testing in southern Spain in an attempt to understand the dynamics of possible non-specific reactions occurring under field conditions. We performed 2288 skin-tests and ELISAs in nine sampling periods between May 2009 and January 2011. In May 2010, a strong increase in skin fold thickness in response to avian purified protein derivative (PPD) (mean = 4.0. mm, 95% CI = 3.5-4.5) and bovine PPD (mean = 1.8. mm, 95% CI = 1.6-2.0) was observed in yearling deer hinds (n= 150), compared to values recorded for the same individuals in November 2009 (avian PPD: mean = 0.7. mm, 95% CI = 0.6-0.8 and bovine PPD: mean = 0.7. mm, 95% CI = 0.6-0.7) and in January 2011 (avian PPD: mean = 2.2. mm, 95% CI = 1.9-2.4 and bovine PPD: mean = 1.1. mm, 95% CI = 1.0-1.2). Using SST, 54 animals (36%) of the yearlings tested in May 2010 would have been classified as positive reactors, while none of them was positive in the CST. The five animals with highest skin fold increases to mycobacterial antigens were culled and subjected to post-mortem analysis, which confirmed the absence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC) infection but demonstrated the presence of environmental mycobacteria and closely related bacteria in four out of the five analyzed animals. Our results demonstrated how non-specific responses to mycobacterial antigens can adversely affect the specificity of TB diagnosis based on the SST. Thus, once TB infection has been ruled out using confirmatory techniques, application of comparative diagnostic tests is highly advisable to maximize test specificity and avoid the slaughter of false positive reactors.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by projects “ Control of Tuberculosis in Wildlife” of Grupo Santander and Fundación Marcelino Botín , CICYT – MEC research grant AGL2008-03875 , and FEDER (Spain), and EU FP7 grant TB-STEP 212414 . J. Queirós was supported by a PhD grant (SFRH/BD/73732/2010) funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia of the Ministério da Ciência , Tecnologia e Ensino Superior, Portuguese government . The authors thank the staff at the deer farm and many colleagues at IREC and VISAVET for their kind help.
- Cervus elaphus
- Non-tuberculous mycobacteria