Detection of natural infection with Mycobacterium intracellulare in healthy wild-caught Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus)by ESAT-6 and CFP-10 IFN- ELISPOT tests following a tuberculosis outbreak

Chege, Gerald K. ; Warren, Robin M. ; Gey van Pittius, Nico C. ; Burgers, Wendy A. ; Wilkinson, Robert J. ; Shephard, Enid G. ; Williamson, Anna-Lise (2008-02)

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Background: Both tuberculous and non-tuberculous mycobacteria can cause infection in nonhuman primates (NHP), indicating the existence of potential zoonotic transmission between these animals and visitors to zoos or animal handlers in primate facilities. Screening of mycobacterial infections in NHP is traditionally done by tuberculin skin test (TST), which is unable to distinguish between pathogenic and non-pathogenic mycobacterial infections. In this study, we investigated the use of ESAT-6 and CFP-10 for detection of mycobacterial infections in a wild-caught baboon colony after one baboon died of tuberculosis (TB). Methods: Peripheral blood lymphocytes for interferon-gamma enzyme-linked immunospot assay (IFN-γ ELISPOT) assay were obtained from TST positive baboons and those in contact with tuberculous baboons before being euthanased, autopsied and lung tissues taken for histology and mycobacterial culture. Results: Both ESAT-6 and CFP-10 IFN-γ ELISPOT assays were able to detect early M. tuberculosis but also M. intracellulare infection. Although this indicates potential cross-reactivity with M. intracellulare antigens, the method was able to distinguish M. bovis BCG vaccination from M. tuberculosis infection. This assay performed better than the TST, which failed to detect one M. tuberculosis and two early M. intracellulare infections. Conclusion: These results suggest that the IFN-γ ELISPOT assay could improve the detection of M tuberculosis infections when screening NHP. There is some doubt, however, concerning specificity, as the assay scored positive three animals infected with M. intracellulare.

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