Pathogen detection and disease diagnosis in wildlife: challenges and opportunities

A. L. Michel, H. Van Heerden, B. M. Crossley, S. Al Dahouk, D. Prasse, V. Rutten

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The availability of rapid, highly sensitive and specific molecular and serologic diagnostic assays, such as competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (cELISA), has expedited the diagnosis of emerging transboundary animal diseases, including bluetongue (BT) and African horse sickness (AHS), and facilitated more thorough characterisation of their epidemiology. The development of assays based on real-time, reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect and identify the numerous serotypes of BT virus (BTV) and AHS virus (AHSV) has aided in-depth studies of the epidemiology of BTV infection in California and AHSV infection in South Africa. The subsequent evaluation of pan-serotype, real-time, RT-PCR-positive samples through the use of serotype-specific RT-PCR assays allows the rapid identification of virus serotypes, reducing the need for expensive and time-consuming conventional methods, such as virus isolation and serotype-specific virus neutralisation assays. These molecular assays and cELISA platforms provide tools that have enhanced epidemiologic surveillance strategies and improved our understanding of potentially altered Culicoides midge behaviour when infected with BTV. They have also supported the detection of subclinical AHSV infection of vaccinated horses in South Africa. Moreover, in conjunction with whole genome sequence analysis, these tests have clarified that the mechanism behind recent outbreaks of AHS in the AHS-controlled area of South Africa was the result of the reversion to virulence and/or genome reassortment of live attenuated vaccine viruses. This review focuses on the use of contemporary molecular diagnostic assays in the context of recent epidemiologic studies and explores their advantages over historic virus isolation and serologic techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-118
Number of pages14
JournalRevue scientifique et technique (International Office of Epizootics)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021


  • Diagnostic test
  • Emerging disease
  • Infectious disease
  • Novel diagnostic approach
  • Pathogen detection
  • Test validation
  • Wildlife
  • Zoonosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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