An indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (I-ELISA) for the detection of specific IgG immunoglobulins against Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) was validated in-house. A total of 3055 sera from sheep (n = 1 159), goats (n = 636), cattle (n = 203), African buffalo (n = 928), and other wild ruminants (n = 129), including eland, kudu, and black wildebeest, was used. Sera from domestic ruminants were collected in West (n = 10), South (n = 1 654) and East Africa (n = 334), and sera from wild ruminants (n = 1 064) were collected in South Africa. In addition, 136 sera from eight experimentally RVFV-infected sheep, taken during a period of 28 days post infection (dpi), were used to study the kinetics of RVFV antibody production. Field sera were tested by the serum neutralization (VN) test and experimental sera by VN and haemagglutination-inhibition (HI) test. Based on VN test results, negative sera were regarded as reference controls from RVFV-free, and positive sera were regarded as reference controls from RVFV-infected subpopulations of animals. ELISA data were expressed as the percentage positivity (PP) of an internal high positive control. The two-graph receiver operating characteristics approach was used for the selection and optimization of I-ELISA cut-offs including the miscIassification costs term and Youden index (J). In addition, cut-off values were determined as the mean plus two-fold standard deviation of the result observed with the RVFV-free subpopulations. Established optimal cut-offs were different for each of the data sets analyzed, and ranged from 1.65 PP (buffalo) to 9.1 PP (goats). At the cut-off giving the highest estimate of combined measure of diagnostic accuracy (highest J value), the I-ELISA test parameters were determined as follows: (1) Diagnostic sensitivity (%): cattle--84.31, buffalo--94.44, sheep--98.91, goats--99.18. (2) Diagnostic specificity (%): cattle--99.34, buffalo--98.28, sheep--99.16, goats--99.23 and other game ruminants--99.26. In the group of RVFV-experimentally infected sheep, seroconversion in all individuals was detected by VN on 4-6 dpi, by HI on 5-7 dpi, and by I-ELISA on 6-7 dpi. All tests showed the same kinetic pattern of immunological response. Antibody levels were low for a very short period before increasing to high titres, after which it was easily detectable by all tests. Compared to traditional tests, the lower sensitivity of I-ELISA in the detection of the earliest stage of immunological response may be practically insignificant, particularly when this assay is used in population-based, disease-surveillance programmes. The high sensitivity and specificity of I-ELISA established in this study, especially for the statistically more representative subpopulations of animals tested, seem to support this prediction. Test parameters determined in this study should, however, be regarded as in-house diagnostic decision limits, for which further updating is recommended, particularly for specimens from other countries, and preferably by applying a standardized method for sampling of new subpopulations of animals to be targeted by the assay.
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