Prevalence of Liver Fluke (Fasciola hepatica) in Wild Red Deer (Cervus elaphus): Coproantigen ELISA Is a Practicable Alternative to Faecal Egg Counting for Surveillance in Remote Populations

Andrew French, Ruth N. Zadoks, Philip J. Skuce, Gillian Mitchell, Danielle K. Gordon-gibbs, Alexandra Craine, David Shaw, Stuart W. Gibb, Mark A. Taggart

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Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are hosts of liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica); yet, prevalence is rarely quantified in wild populations. Testing fresh samples from remote regions by faecal examination (FE) can be logistically challenging; hence, we appraise frozen storage and the use of a coproantigen ELISA (cELISA) for F. hepatica surveillance. We also present cELISA surveillance data for red deer from the Highlands of Scotland. Diagnoses in faecal samples (207 frozen, 146 fresh) were compared using a cELISA and by FE. For each storage method (frozen or fresh), agreement between the two diagnostics was estimated at individual and population levels, where population prevalence was stratified into cohorts (e.g., by sampling location). To approximate sensitivity and specificity, 65 post-slaughter whole liver examinations were used as a reference. At the individual level, FE and cELISA diagnoses agreed moderately (κfrozen = 0.46; κfresh = 0.51), a likely reflection of their underlying principles. At the population level, FE and cELISA cohort prevalence correlated strongly (Pearson’s R = 0.89, p < 0.0001), reflecting good agreement on relative differences between cohort prevalence. In frozen samples, prevalence by cELISA exceeded FE overall (42.8% vs. 25.8%) and in 9/12 cohorts, alluding to differences in sensitivity; though, in fresh samples, no significant difference was found. In 959 deer tested by cELISA across the Scottish Highlands, infection prevalence ranged from 9.6% to 53% by sampling location. We highlight two key advantages of cELISA over FE: i) the ability to store samples long term (frozen) without apparent loss in diagnostic power; and ii) reduced labour and the ability to process large batches. Further evaluation of cELISA sensitivity in red deer, where a range of fluke burdens can be obtained, is desirable. In the interim, the cELISA is a practicable diagnostic for F. hepatica surveillance in red deer, and its application here has revealed considerable geographic, temporal, sex and age related differences in F. hepatica prevalence in wild Scottish Highland red deer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0162420
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sep 2016


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