Detection of heartwater is not always easy especially because all the serological assays so far available either have poor sensitivity or specificity. The indirect MAP-1B ELISA has been reported to be the most specific test for heartwater, although it does also detect antibodies to some closely related ehrlichial agents. This study was undertaken to compare two methods for the detection of heartwater infection caused by the ehrlichial agent Ehrlichia (Cowdria) ruminantium. Fifteen cattle on a heartwater-endemic farm infested with high numbers of Amblyomma hebraeum ticks, and hence exposure to E. ruminantium infection were monitored over an 8-week period by pCS20 PCR and an indirect MAP-1B ELISA. Infection was detected by pCS20 PCR in most animals with the highest number of positives (60%) in week 6 of the study. Similarly, exposure to E. ruminantium was detected by indirect MAP-1B ELISA in some animals, with the highest number of seropositives (27%) at weeks 2 - 6 of the study. The data demonstrated a fluctuating rickettsaemia in cattle in a heartwater-endemic area. Comparison of the two tests indicated that the pCS20 PCR assay was more reliable because it detected more infections than the indirect MAP-1B ELISA and would therefore be the method of choice for detection of E. ruminantium infection.
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