Journal of the South African Veterinary Association
On-line version ISSN 2224-9435
STEYN, H C; MCCRINDLE, C M E and DU TOIT, D. Veterinary extension on sampling techniques related to heartwater research. J. S. Afr. Vet. Assoc. [online]. 2010, vol.81, n.3, pp. 160-165. ISSN 2224-9435.
Heartwater, a tick-borne disease caused by Ehrlichia ruminantium, is considered to be a significant cause of mortality amongst domestic and wild ruminants in South Africa. The main vector is Amblyomma hebraeum and although previous epidemiological studies have outlined endemic areas based on mortalities, these have been limited by diagnostic methods which relied mainly on positive brain smears. The indirect fluorescent antibody test (IFA) has a low specificity for heartwater organisms as it cross-reacts with some other species. Since the advent of biotechnology and genomics, molecular epidemiology has evolved using the methodology of traditional epidemiology coupled with the new molecular techniques. A new quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) test has been developed for rapid and accurate diagnosis of heartwater in the live animal. This method can also be used to survey populations of A. hebraeum ticks for heartwater. Sampling whole blood and ticks for this qPCR differs from routine serum sampling, which is used for many serological tests. Veterinary field staff, particularly animal health technicians, are involved in surveillance and monitoring of controlled and other diseases of animals in South Africa. However, it was found that the sampling of whole blood was not done correctly, probably because it is a new sampling technique specific for new technology, where the heartwater organism is much more labile than the serum antibodies required for other tests. This qPCR technique is highly sensitive and can diagnose heartwater in the living animal within 2 hours, in time to treat it. Poor sampling techniques that decrease the sensitivity of the test will, however, result in a false negative diagnosis. This paper describes the development of a skills training programme for para-veterinary field staff, to facilitate research into the molecular epidemiology of heartwater in ruminants and eliminate any sampling bias due to collection errors. Humane handling techniques were also included in the training, in line with the current focus on improved livestock welfare.
Keywords : Ehrlichia ruminantium; livestock welfare; molecular epidemiology; sampling precision; veterinary extension.