Mycobacterium avium is the causative agent of the avian mycobacteriosis commonly known as avian tuberculosis (ATB). This infection causes disseminated disease, is difficult to diagnose, and is of serious concern because it causes significant mortality in birds. A new method was developed for processing specimens for an antemortem screening test for ATB. This novel method uses the zwitterionic detergent C18-carboxypropylbetaine (CB-18). Blood, bone marrow, bursa, and fecal specimens from 28 ducks and swabs of 20 lesions were processed with CB-18 for analysis by smear, culture, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Postmortem examination confirmed nine of these birds as either positive or highly suspect for disseminated disease. The sensitivities of smear, culture, and PCR, relative to postmortem analysis and independent of specimen type, were 44.4%, 88.9%, and 100%, respectively, and the specificities were 84.2%, 57.9%, and 15.8%, respectively. Reductions in specificity were due primarily to results among fecal specimens. However, these results were clustered among a subset of birds, suggesting that these tests actually identified birds in early stages of the disease. Restriction fragment length polymorphism mapping identified one strain of M. avium (serotype 1) that was isolated from lesions, bursa, bone marrow, blood, and feces of all but three of the culture-positive birds. In birds with confirmed disease, blood had the lowest sensitivity and the highest specificity by all diagnostic methods. Swabs of lesions provided the highest sensitivity by smear and culture (33.3% and 77.8%, respectively), whereas fecal specimens had the highest sensitivity by PCR (77.8%). The results of this study indicate that processing fecal specimens with CB-18, followed by PCR analysis, may provide a valuable first step for monitoring the presence of ATB in birds.
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