Exploring the financial implications of bovine babesiosis

The financial implications of endemic stability as a control strategy for Bovine babesiosis in veld grazing beef production systems of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: 

  • Animal Health & Welfare

Research Institute: University of Pretoria

Researcher: Francis Edwardes

Research Team

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification Research Institution
Doctor W Hoffmann PhD Stellenbosch University
Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification Research Institution
Prof H Hogeveen   WUR

Completion: 2020

Aims of the project

  • Develop a model which can provide an estimate of the economic impact and financial implications of bovine babesiosis has at the herd level of a typical farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands with the available data and existing research efforts.
  • Financially compare the established dipping strategies of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands as a result of the developed model highlighted in point above.
  • Establish factors in which data relevant to the research problem is scarce or non-existent encountered through the development of the model as in the points above.
  • Establish the need for correct data collection by farmers when confronted with an infected animal in relation to point above.
  • Suggest methods of data collection in relation to Points 3 and 4 and further research opportunities in order to develop more accurate estimates of cost-effective management options.

Executive Summary

In South Africa, cattle production has increased by 46% in 2014 compared with 2005. Local consumption trends indicate that the country is a net importer of bovine meat products, due to the supply not capable of meeting demand requirements. The country’s projected population growth of 1.2% and the expected rise in beef consumption by 24% over the next ten years will require farmers to produce at greater efficiencies to meet local demand and to reverse the trade role it currently finds itself in. However, agricultural production comes with many challenges. Production diseases, such as the myriad of tick-borne diseases, are partly responsible for the challenges agriculturalists face. Amongst these, bovine babesiosis is considered as one the greatest economically important tick-borne diseases in South Africa.

Pathogenic parasites, such as Babesia bigemina and Babesia bovis, are responsible for the cause of this disease. The distribution of the parasites are directly related to the distribution of their vectors; B. bigemina has a greater distribution than that of B. bovis. Primary transmissions of B. bigemina in cattle older than nine months are less virulent when compared with B. bovis. Production losses can occur in the form of mortality, weight loss and abortions by varying degrees for either parasite. These losses coupled with treatment and prevention expenditure can result in significant costs for a farmer.  A prevention strategy that has long been discussed is to apply the concept of endemic stability. This means that the cattle are provided the opportunity to take advantage of their non-specific immunity through less aggressive tick eradication methods in order for herd resistance to develop over time.

Bovine babesiosis is considered a globally important disease and is one of South Africa most economically pertinent tick-borne diseases. However, no conclusive literature has been published regarding the economic impact caused by bovine babesiosis in South Africa and is known to be a problem since at least the early 1980’s. If bovine babesiosis is regarded with such high economic importance, why has there been little economic or financial research conducted internationally? Furthermore, why has South Africa not conducted exploratory economic or financial research studies in the last 35 years in an attempt to address this concern? The concept of developing a state of endemic stability through less aggressive acaricide applications is an intervention which has been suggested and is slowly implemented by the countries farmers, but no economic and financial insight is provided to those who implement this method of control.

The main research question for this study is; what is the value of adopting a strategic dipping option in an attempt to promote the development of endemic stability compared with an intensive acaricide treatment routine? By doing so, this study asks a question pertaining to the economic impact and financial implications of developing endemic stability by implementing a strategic dipping intervention. The study will be conducted at the herd level within the KwaZulu-
Natal Midlands and is compared with an intensive dipping approach.

Results

Preceding model development and the definition of various scenarios, simulations were run and results were analysed. For the sake of this executive summary, only the production, financial and economic analyses are presented.

The production effects of B. bigemina and B. bovis were translated into an economic impact assessment and a financial analysis of each dipping strategy per parasite prevalence.

The economic impact and financial analyses of either dipping strategy and respective scenario were compared. The economic impact assessment included the sum of all discounted costs as a result of disease prevalence and severity after a primary infection had occurred in either the breeding cows, weaners and calves in each one of the fifteen simulated years. The financial analysis included all the cash in- and outflows directly related to the production of beef weaners in the face of a bovine babesiosis challenge respective of the parasite prevalence and resulting disease severity. In light of a B. bigemina infection, the economic impact in Scenario 2 to 4 was greater for strategic dipping but less than intensive dipping in Scenario 1.

The economic consequences for intensive dipping decreased by an average of R21 115.34, with a range from R15 925.43 to R23 954.69, for each decrease in seroprevalence as per the respective scenarios. Adversely, the economic impact of strategic increased with a decrease in seroprevalence. Scenario 1 incurred the lowest impact of R82 082.86 and the greatest consequence of R95 679.96 was achieved in Scenario 4. The greatest component of the economic cost in each strategic dipping scenario was the value of weight lost consisting an average of 76% in each year. Dipping and treatment costs consisted of 10% and 9% in each year. The balance consists of recovery feed and compensatory growth costs. The value of weight lost cost component for an intensive dipping programme was greatest in Scenario 1, 2 and 3 consisting 67%, 63% and 53% of the total economic impact, respectively. This is followed by the dipping expenditure component which made up 21%, 25% and 36% of the total economic cost in each year. Dipping expenditures in Scenario 4 are greatest at 66% of the total economic cost followed by the value of weight lost at 29%. Treatment costs for Scenario 1 to three comprised 9% of the economic costs in each year and 5.0% in Scenario 4. The balance of the economic impact consists of recovery feed and compensatory feed costs. Results of the financial analyses for either dipping strategy and the respective scenarios indicate that the intensive prevention is a better financially viable option regardless of the parasite seroprevalence, and is indicated by the larger NPV and IRR values achieved.

The economic consequences of B. bovis are greater than that of the impacts realised due to B. bigemina. In all scenarios, the total economic cost of B. bovis is greater for strategic dipping when compared with the respective scenarios of intensive dipping. The largest cost component in strategic dipping is the value of weight lost as a result of a greater number of acute deaths and the longer duration of a recoverable infection. The value of weight lost held at an average of 95% of the total economic impact per year for either scenario of strategic dipping followed by treatment costs at 2.0%. The mean value of weight lost for intensive dipping in Scenario 1 to 3 made up 94% of the total economic cost while in Scenario 4 it is 8.0% less. Treatment costs outweighed dipping expenditures in Scenarios 1 and 2 whereas the latter component is greater than the former in Scenario 3 and 4. The economic impact realised in intensive dipping decreased by an average of R320 418.40, with a range from R244 736.00 to R362 558.30, with each decrease in seroprevalence as per the respective scenarios. Adversely, the economic impact increased from R1 255 592.16 to R1 492 277.39 with each respective decrease in seroprevalence. Despite the larger economic impact realised in all scenarios of strategic dipping, the financial analysis indicates that strategic dipping is more financially viable in Scenario 1 where a greater NPV is achieved. The conflict between NPV and IRR is resolved by identifying a cross-over rate of 7.89%. This indicates that strategic dipping is the more profitable prevention programme to choose while the interest rate remains below or equal to the cross-over rate and the seroprevalence of B. bovis is at 90%. In Scenario 2 to 4, intensive dipping is the more financially viable option to choose due to the greater NPV and IRR values realised.

Conclusion

The objectives of this study have been achieved. A dynamic stochastic model was developed to simulate the economic impact of bovine babesiosis a typical beef farm of the KZN Midlands would encounter where one of two dipping strategies are applied. A financial analysis of the cash in- and outflows was performed for either dipping strategy based on the data generated by the simulations. However, the model is limited in its performance due to various assumptions that were specified. Assumptions were made due to data collection difficulties.

Considering the limitations of this model, the overall results indicate that intensive dipping realises greater benefits. These benefits are increased as the seroprevalence decreases towards a 0% situation as demonstrated when NPV results are compared with those of a healthy farm. This suggests achieving a disease-free situation by means of parasite eradication. This study does not attempt to offer economic or financial insight as to the attainment of this state. Eliminating disease through eradication will contribute to an increase in animal welfare since fewer animals will have to undergo clinical infections in order for the farmer to achieve the state of endemic stability. Current results indicate that the concept of creating endemic stability as a control strategy is not a financially viable option. It is imperative to understand that these results are inconclusive due to the lack of available data as well as the limited research efforts concerned with various production effects of the disease. Emphasis is thus placed on the need for more stringent data collection routines and research efforts in order to effectively analyse the impact of various control strategies of bovine babesiosis from an economic perspective. The economic cost component of the model in this study has been developed as a foundation for future economic research in the realm of bovine babesiosis.

Objective Statement

The objective is to establish a set of principles enabling further economic and financial research to be pursued by primarily exploring the value of adopting a strategic dipping option in an attempt to promote the development of endemic stability compared with intensive acaricide prevention. This exploratory research should provide estimates identifying the economic consequences and financial implications of bovine babesiosis at the herd-level for either dipping strategy.

POPULAR ARTICLE

The economic impact of redwater and the need for data associated with the production effects of the disease

WFI Edwardes; Dr W Hoffmann

Bovine babesiosis, more commonly known as redwater in South Africa, is considered as one of the country’s most economically important tick-borne diseases. This is certainly not new information since the disease has been tagged with a label of economic importance for at least 35 years. Despite this dangling red tag of economic threat, little is known about the actual costs incurred by various stakeholders in the South African beef industry. The most recent economic impact estimate is reflected in an average annual expenditure of R5.1 million on babesicides. But how does this information help those that are affected the most by the disease; perhaps the producers? Furthermore, why has there been little to no economic research conducted to shed a little more light on this economically important disease?

A masters research study from Stellenbosch University was established to explore the economic consequences of redwater in veld grazing beef production systems of the KwaZulu Natal Midlands. For producers, research concerning the economic impact of disease is important so that a benchmark cost is known in order to compare the feasibility of other disease mitigation strategies with a current management strategy. Estimating the cost of redwater comes with difficulties due to the scarcity in data concerning the production effects of this disease in various management systems. The lack of data is a regular constraint in other economic impact assessments of disease. To cope with data scarcity, the first objective of our research was to develop a simulation model in which can provide cost estimates of African and Asiatic redwater at the herd- and cow-level based on available data and existing research efforts. The second objective was to establish factors in which data relevant to the research problem is scarce or non-existent encountered through the development of the model, in turn emphasising the need for greater data collection efforts.

A typical farm model was developed for the design of this exploratory research. An intensive dipping management strategy was chosen since it has long been the approach to manage tick populations, and therefore the transmission of the Babesia parasites, before the more recent approach of strategic dipping in order to promote the development of endemic stability. Other prevention measures such as blocking and blooding were excluded due to the lack of data. The chosen factors in which redwater affected production were the cost of mortality, weight loss, compensatory growth. The cost of recovery feed, treatment and dipping is also included. Four seroprevalence scenarios for Babesia bigemina and Babesia bovis, the respective parasites responsible for the cause of African and Asiatic redwater, were simulated. The scenarios included seroprevalence levels of i) 10% as per a situation of minimal disease; ii) 40% as per an endemically unstable situation; iii) 70% as per a situation approaching endemic stability, and iv) 90% as per an endemically stable situation. Using the seroprevalence and the average age of the herd the inoculation rate could be estimated. The inoculation rate is defined as the daily probability that an animal may receive a Babesia infection.

Simulation results, summarised in Figure 1, prove that Asiatic redwater is cause for greater concern. A comparison between the Babesia seroprevalence levels show that the economic cost of Asiatic redwater per breeding cow is on average ten fold that of African redwater. The value of weight loss either as a result of acute deaths or reduced weight gains following an infection is responsible makes up the largest cost component in all scenarios for both diseases, results are summarised in Table 1. Further investigation identified which animal cohort – cow, calf and weaner – yield the greatest economic cost given the inoculation rate for each simulated seroprevalence scenario. As illustrated in Figure 2 the economic impact is greatest in cow cohorts for lower seroprevalence levels. In higher seroprevalence scenarios the economic impact is felt greatest in weaner cohorts. This may be due to the calves being weaned where too few of them have received a primary infection before the age of nine months, resulting in too few attaining a non-specific immunity, but enough such that a risky population of Babesia parasites are harboured in the newly formed weaner cohort. Thus, more weaners receive a primary infection in which a non-specific immunity can no longer be attained. In our research, we attempted to simulate the economic impact of a strategic dipping strategy for the same herd. However, it was quickly discovered that results would not be reliable since there was not enough data to serve as input for this prevention strategy.

The objectives of this research were achieved in which a model was developed to explore the economic impact of redwater at the herd- and cow-level. Through the process of conducting this study, many constraints were encountered. These were largely in the form of scarce or non-existent data. Data concerning the production effects of redwater on Bos indicus cross Bos taurus breeds are not enough. Research efforts have investigated effects of the disease on certain variables such as weight loss, compensatory weight gain during recovery and are more concerned with Bos taurus breeds. Therefore, studies as such should be continued but more focus should be placed on the cross breeds. No studies were available concerning the effect that redwater had on milk production – and the subsequent effects it would have on calf growth, fertility, abortion and replacement. This gap in the literature should be addressed by livestock scientists and veterinarians. Greater knowledge pertaining to the effects of these production variables will lead to better cost estimates and the promotion of various cost-effective intervention strategies. Babesia bovis should continue to be the primary researched parasite due to its greater impact on production. The collection of data by farmers encountering such production effects should also be documented more strictly. Most farmers acknowledge the presence of the disease but do not document it and the resulting production effects; such data can aid research. This, however, is a challenging task as it requires the farmer to know the current seroprevalence amongst his/her heard and to continuously check its status throughout the year, to maintain strong relationships with the veterinarians in the area in order to correctly diagnose a sick animal and to communicate the data between the actors effectively. This may be costly for a farmer and lead to further economic studies researching the economic value of continuous Babesia seroprevalence monitoring in a herd.

In conclusion, this research has laid down the first stepping stone in the path of exploring the economic impact of redwater. Estimating the economic impact of redwater may only tell us something we already know, but without a cost estimate of redwater research can not compare the costs of alternative management strategies to a “norm”. Therefore, the need for more data associated with the production effects of redwater is emphasised. With the collective efforts of those in practice and research with an aim to collect data, more light will be shed on redwater for the benefit of the beef industry.

Please contact the Primary Researcher on the project if you need a copy of the comprehensive report – franco.edwardes@gmail.com

Larvicide testing for blackfly control

Testing the blackfly organophosphate larvicide Abate® for viability in the Orange River Blackfly Control Programme

Industry Sector: Cattle And Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Animal Health and Welfare

Research Institute: University of KwaZulu-Natal

Researcher: Dr Nicholas Rivers-Moore PhD

Research Team:

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Dr Helen Dallas PhD
Dr Robert Palmer PhD
Mr Shahin Naidoo BSc (Hons)
Ms Esther Ndou BSc (Hons)

Year of completion : 2017

Aims Of The Project

  • To confirm non-resistance to Abate in the Orange River pest blackfly populations;
  • To investigate the potential for re-activation of Abate as an alternative larvicide to Vectobac for control under high-flow conditions.

Executive Summary

Downstream flow alteration resulting from river impoundment or inter-basin transfer schemes, while improving water supply assurance levels, has been shown to have negative ecological consequences, including outbreaks in pest blackfly.  Outbreaks along the middle and lower Orange River have the potential to cause losses to livestock production estimated at US$13.3 million per annum (Rivers-Moore et al. 2014).  This figure is a conservative estimate as it excludes losses in the tourism and irrigated agricultural sectors through lost revenue and labour days.  Economic losses occur approximately 1200 km along the middle and lower reaches of the Orange River (Palmer 1997).  This is the river segment downstream of Van Der Kloof Dam, the major impoundment regulating flows in the Orange River.  The major pest species is Simulium chutteri, with more than 250 breeding sites (riffles) identified along the affected river sections, however S. damnosumS. nigritarse and S. adersi are also of concern (de Moor 1994, and citing others).

The Orange River Blackfly Control Programme, established in the early 1990s, was originally based on alternating use of two larvicides, viz. a bacterial larvicide (Vectobac®) and an organophosphate (Abate®; active ingredient is Temephos).  This programme extends over some 850 km of the middle and lower Orange River, where 148 rapids have been identified as optimal breeding habitat for pest blackfly species (Palmer et al. 2007).  The success of the control programme depends largely on correct timing of larvicide applications.  It is based on monitoring using a ten-point scoring system for larval and pupal densities developed by Palmer (1994), which is scientifically robust and user-friendly.  Larval density data are scored by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF; Upington and De Aar regional offices) on a two-weekly basis, using the 10 point scale developed by Palmer (1994), reflecting seasonal changes of larval densities of the main blackfly pest complex comprising Simulium chutteri and S. damnosum.  The blackfly control programme along the middle and lower Orange River is based on aerial applications of larvicides to control the pest species Simulium chutteri.  Larvicides are generally applied three times in autumn and six times in spring (Palmer and Palmer 1995).  The two larvicides registered for blackfly control in South Africa are Vectobac® (produced from the naturally occurring bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis (Bti)and Abate® (organophosphate temephos) (Palmer and Palmer 1995).  However, wide scale application of the Abate larvicide, and blackfly larvae’s continuous exposure to it, has resulted in resistance being developed (Palmer and Palmer 1995).

Both larvicide options had advantages and drawbacks to their use.  In the case of Vectobac, the likelihood of pest blackfly developing resistance was low, but the higher viscosity and lower concentration of this larvicide in solution came with drawbacks including the need for more helicopter doses and clogging of nozzles.  While Abate does not result in these application drawbacks due to its more concentrated, lower viscosity formulation, its over-use was cautioned against because of the higher likelihood of resistance developing in Simulium chutteri.

By 2005, due to overuse of Abate, larvicidal resis been confirmed (Palmer et al. 2007), and a study completed in 2007 was unable to recommend any viable alternatives.  With ten years after the last use of Abate in the Orange River, it was hypothesized that larval resistance had diminished to the point where Abate could be used again.  During this period, where blackfly take 12-24 days to complete a life cycle, there is likely to have been at least 120-240 generations.  The purpose of this study was to establish whether blackfly larval resistance to Abate has subsided, thereby re-establishing a second larvicidal alternative for blackfly control on the Orange River.

Results

In the Great Fish River trials, larvae were a mixture of Simulium damnosum and S. chutteri in approximately a 3:1 ratio, while the reverse applied to pupae, and pupae dominated. Stock populations of blackfly larvae for the larvicide trials were low, with median values on the reeds sampled being 6.5 ± 1.4. Turbidity was relatively high, and flow rates were very low. Water was slightly alkaline, but with very high conductivity. In the Orange River, larvae were dominated by S. chutteri, with S. damnosum present, while pupal cases were almost exclusively S. damnosum with few S. chutteri present. Stock populations of blackfly larvae for the larvicide trials were higher than in the Great Fish River, with median values on the reeds sampled being 4.0 ± 1.4. Turbidity was relatively low, with prolific algal growth on rocks. Flow rates in the main river channel were normal; water was slightly alkaline, with conductivity comparable between river channel and irrigation canal.

Two concentrations of Abate were used: 0.3 mg.l-1 0.5 mg.l-1. Gutter trials of the efficacy of Abate on blackfly in the Great Fish River confirmed viability of the product, with mortalities of 95 and 97% respectively. Trials on Orange River populations showed similar trends at the same concentrations of larvicide. In all instances, declines in density classes were statistically significant (p < 0.05). In contrast, the class changes in the controls were not statistically significant (p < 0.05).

Conclusion

A downward change in density classes of blackfly larvae is expected to occur in both the control and trial gutter channels, due to a degree of downstream drift, where some larvae are dislodged and wash out of the gutters.  Despite this, there was a clear differentiation between changes in density scores between control sample populations and samples exposed to larvicide.  Not only was the viability of the Abate stocks confirmed after prolonged storage, but mortalities on the Orange River were significantly marked to indicate that larval resistance has subsided for concentrations of 0.3-0.5 mg.l-1.  In the project proposal, the original intention was to conduct larvicide trials on blackfly mortalities at a range of concentrations (0, 0.5, 1.0, 5.0 and 20.0 mg.l-1).  This range of concentrations was designed to range from the dosage concentration recommended by the manufacturers of Abate (0.10 ppm = 0.1 mg.l-1 or 30l per 100m3 where flows can be accurately determined), to higher concentrations to enable confirmation of larvicidal viability.  In this study, undertaking this full spectrum of trials was not possible due to the limited numbers of blackfly larvae available.  Additionally, it was demonstrated that Abate was effective at concentrations of 0.3-0.5 mg.l-1, which is within the magnitude of range recommended by the manufactures of Abate.

After a dormancy period of 10-15 years, blackfly larval resistance in the Orange River appears to no longer be a constraint in the use of Abate for blackfly control in the Orange River.

Objective Statement

  • Aim 1 (confirm non-resistance to Abate in the Orange River pest blackfly populations) has been successfully achieved.
  • Aim 2 (investigate the potential for re-activation of Abate as an alternative larvicide to Vectobac for control under high-flow conditions) will be an ongoing process. The Upington DAFF staff assisted with field trials. Further discussion will be required with DAFF (Upington and head office).

POPULAR ARTICLE

New hope for reintroduction of second larvicide to control muggies on the Orange River

Dr. Nick Rivers-Moore.

Red Meat Research and Development SA funded a recently completed study that tested a second larvicide for controlling pest blackfly on the middle and lower Orange River.  Mnr. Hoffie Joubert from KLK was also instrumental in assisting with project supplies.  While the larvicide is not new, it became ineffective in the mid-2000s for controlling pest blackfly here, because of a build-up of resistance to the product in the local blackfly population.  This means that only one larvicide, a bacterial larvicide called Vectobac, has been available for controlling blackfly for the past 10-15 years.  The Orange River Blackfly Control Programme, established in the early 1990s, was originally based on alternating use of two larvicides – a bacterial larvicide (Vectobac®) and an organophosphate (Abate®).  Both options had advantages and drawbacks to their use.  In the case of Vectobac, the likelihood of pest blackfly developing resistance was low, but the higher viscosity and lower concentration of this larvicide in solution came with drawbacks including the need for more helicopter doses, clogging of applicator nozzles.  While Abate does not result in these application drawbacks due to its more concentrated, lower viscosity formulation, its over-use was cautioned against because of the higher likelihood of resistance developing in Simulium chutteri.

By 2005, due to overuse of Abate, larvicidal resistance had been confirmed, and a study completed in 2007 was unable to recommend any viable alternatives.  With more than ten years after the last use of Abate in the Orange River, it was hypothesized that larval resistance had diminished to the point where Abate could be used again.  During this period, where blackfly take 12-24 days to complete a life cycle, there is likely to have been a few hundred generations, with resistance being bred out.

Dr Nick Rivers-Moore, an aquatic ecologist with fifteen years of research expertise on blackfly ecology, recently re-tested the efficacy of the larvicide Abate on pest blackfly.  This was first tested for product viability at a site about half an hour’s drive from Grahamstown on Great Fish River.  Here, the same species of blackfly which cause the outbreak problems on the Orange River have not been exposed to Abate.  Next, the gutter trials were repeated on the Orange River near Upington in the Northern Cape.  In all trials, larval mortalities were significant after application of the larvicide.  Dr Rivers-Moore said that “after a dormancy period of 10-15 years, blackfly larval resistance in the Orange River appears to no longer be a constraint in the use of Abate for blackfly control in the Orange River.”  These results were met with enthusiasm by the Blackfly Control Programme officers in the Upington DAFF office.  However, he says that “it is recommended that upscaling of these results is considered prior to re-introduction of Abate as a second larvicide for controlling pest blackfly on the Orange River.”

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project –
Nicholas Rivers-Moore on blackfly1@vodamailcom

Nick Rivers-Moore

TrichLabCheck – A voluntary trichomonosis inter laboratory comparison project

TrichLabCheck – A voluntary trichomonosis inter laboratory comparison project in South Africa

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: 

  • Animal Health and Welfare

Research Institute: University of Pretoria

Researcher: Dietmar Holm

Research Team

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification Research Institution
Dr T Zangure BVSc University of Pretoria

Completion: 2020

Aims of the project

  • This study aimed to validate the accuracy of voluntarily enrolled private (n = 8) and state-owned (n = 5) laboratories that perform trichomonosis diagnostic tests by estimating the sensitivity (Se) and specificity (Sp) per laboratory. It was hypothesized that diagnostic laboratories in South Africa play an insignificant role in the inaccuracy of the diagnosis of trichomonosis.

Executive Summary

Trichomonosis is currently the most important venereal disease of cattle in South Africa with adverse economic implications to the beef production industry due to cow abortions, infertility and culling of carrier bulls. Once diagnosed in a herd, eradication is difficult due to financial and biological implications. Bulls are asymptomatic carriers and susceptibility increases with age. In infected females, clinical signs include embryonal death, abortion, pyometra, foetal maceration and uterine discharge.

Diagnostic accuracy is one of the major clinical problems preventing easy eradication of trichomonosis from a herd and can be influenced by biological variance in the occurrence of the organism, sampling errors, sample degradation during sample transport and diagnostic laboratory inaccuracies.

Objective Statement

The objective of the project was to determine the role that diagnostic laboratories play in the inaccuracies of trichomonosis diagnosis in South Africa.

Results

Laboratories performed either the culture method (n = 5), polymerase chain reaction (PCR) (n = 6) or a combination of culture and PCR (n= 2). Fresh preputial scrapings from four bulls with known negative status for trichomonosis were pooled in 200ml of phosphate buffered saline (PBS) to form the sample base for 12 subsamples of 13ml each. Duplicate subsamples were then contaminated with 2ml originating from four different laboratory cultures of Tritrichomonas foetus or 2ml of culture medium for four negative samples. Aliquots of the subsamples were transferred to an anaerobic transport medium, and the final concentration reached in these samples submitted to the laboratories, were categorised as follows: weak (30 organisms/μl). A total of 312 samples were sent by courier in two separate rounds: eight (4 duplicates) positive and four negative samples per round. Multiple logistic regression was performed on sensitivity, using sampling round, laboratory sector, diagnostic test type and sample concentration as independent variables, and removing variables in a stepwise manner based on the highest P-value.

Two public laboratories only reported on one round of sampling, and one batch of 12 samples was severely delayed in reaching another public laboratory. The sample identifications of a further two batches were not recorded by the respective private laboratories. The results from these 60 unreported samples were not included in the analysis. Laboratories that performed the PCR assay (solely, or in addition to culture) were grouped for data analysis. The overall specificity (Sp) was 100% and the sensitivity was 88.7% (95% CI 83.9% – 93.5%). Laboratories using PCR recorded higher sensitivity than those using the culture method (95.5%; 95% CI 91.0% – 99.9% and 81.3%; 95% CI 72.5% – 90.0% respectively, P < 0.01), and private laboratories recorded higher Se than public laboratories (96.4%; 95% CI 92.9% – 99.9% and 73.2%; 95% CI 61.2% – 85.2%, P < 0.01). For laboratories using PCR, weak positive samples recorded a lower sensitivity than strong positive samples (86.4%; 95% CI 70.8% – 101.9% and 100%; 95% CI 100% – 100%, respectively, P < 0.01). One public and six private laboratories obtained 100% accuracy during the two sampling rounds.

In the logistic regression model, private sector (compared to public), an increasing concentration of organisms in the sample and the second round of sampling (compared to the first round) were independent predictors of laboratory sensitivity for the detection of Tritrichomonas foetus.

Conclusion

It is concluded that inaccuracies in the diagnostic laboratory contributes to the deficiencies in diagnostic sensitivity for trichomonosis in South Africa, but does not influence diagnostic specificity. It is further concluded that diagnostic sensitivity was independently influenced by the sector in which the laboratory operates (private vs public) and the concentration of Tritrichomonas foetus organisms in the sample.

POPULAR ARTICLE

Trichomonosis: what role does the laboratory play in combating the disease?

Prof Dietmar Holm

INTRODUCTION

Trichomonosis is a venereal disease of cattle that results in significant losses to the beef industry in particular, due to a severe reduction in the reproductive potential of beef herds. The disease occurs worldwide and is currently widespread in South Africa. In many cases herds are infected without the knowledge of the farmer, because there are often no external signs visible in the cattle. This means that without knowing, farmers loose thousands of rands in potential income due to the loss of unborn calves.

The diagnosis of trichomonosis is done on bulls, and must be performed by a qualified veterinarian only. Incorrect sampling results in incorrect diagnosis, which means that a farmer will remain in the dark about the status of his or her cattle herd. After collecting samples, they are submitted to a laboratory for diagnosis. This diagnosis can be done using different types of tests and must also be done under strict controlled conditions. Several laboratories in South Africa perform this service for veterinarians.

The nature of the disease is such that the diagnostic test is not 100% accurate, even when done by the correct professionals. In a recent study performed by the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria, the role of diagnostic laboratories in the accuracy of the diagnostic test for trichomonosis was investigated. The TrichLabCheck research team, led by Prof Dietmar Holm, found that indeed in South Africa, amongst the 13 laboratories that voluntarily participated in the research, several false negative results were reported. There were no false positive results reported in this study to date, which is in line with similar studies done elsewhere in the world. This is important information for veterinarians and farmers in South Africa, who need to consider that in some cases a bull that tested negative may in actual fact be positive and needs to be tested again to confirm his negative status. It was found in this study that the average diagnostic sensitivity of all participating laboratories to detect trichomonosis was 88.7%. This means that potentially for every 10 positive bulls tested in South Africa, at least 1 will provide a false negative test result.

The research emphasises the need to perform repeated samples on individual bulls to confirm their individual negative status, or to test a large number of bulls in a given herd to confirm the negative status of a herd. It also highlights the fact that a negative test result of a single bull in a positive herd must be interpreted with care, because it may just be that the particular bull gave a negative test result when in fact he may be infected with the disease.

“Trichomonosis has been an increasing problem in South African beef cattle over the past decades, and we are hoping that farmers and veterinarians will use this research to be more vigilant in their diagnostic approach towards the disease”, prof Holm stated.

The research further confirmed that the number of Trichomonas organisms in the sample contributes to the accuracy of the test. This emphasises the importance of using only a qualified veterinarian to perform this important task on farms. Dr Tinashe Zangure, the masters student and veterinarian involved in this study confirmed that he gained excellent knowledge not only about the disease, but also about the importance that bull sampling and laboratory techniques play in the effort to combat the disease in cattle herds.

The University of Pretoria, in collaboration with the Ruminant Veterinary Association of South Africa, will soon be publishing a list of laboratories with acceptable levels of accuracy for trichomonosis. The research will be ongoing, and the list will be updated in an effort to ensure that the veterinary industry strive towards diagnostic excellence in South Africa.

Please contact the Primary Researcher on the project if you need a copy of the comprehensive report – dietmar.holm@up.ac.za