A review of diagnostic tests for diagnosing failure of transfer of passive immunity in dairy calves in New Zealand

A review of diagnostic tests for diagnosing failure of transfer of passive immunity in dairy calves in New Zealand
Peer reviewed

Abstract

The aim of this review is to critically assess the test characteristics and practicality of published data on direct and indirect tests for diagnosing failure of transfer of passive immunity (FPT) in dairy calves in New Zealand, to provide recommendations for veterinary practitioners, and to examine the recommended sample size for assessing herd-level prevalence of FPT and the confidence in the results obtained. The definition of FPT is based on measurement of concentrations of IgG in serum of neonatal calves after colostrum intake. The gold standard method for measurement of concentrations of IgG is radial immunodiffusion. However its cost, requirements for laboratory equipment, and the time taken to obtain results have meant that alternative tests have been developed. The turbidimetric immunoassay and ELISA also directly measure concentrations of IgG. Indirect tests include measurement of concentrations of total proteins (TP) in the laboratory or using a refractometer, γ-glutamyl transferase (GGT) activity, and the zinc sulfate turbidity (ZST) test. Of the indirect tests, measurement of concentrations of TP in the laboratory or using a refractometer combine high specificity and sensitivity with a consistent association with concentrations of IgG in calves between 1–7 days of age. Using a refractometer is less accurate than direct measurement in a laboratory, but is still a suitable test if low cost and speed are important. Although GGT activity is strongly associated with concentrations of IgG in serum, the relationship varies with time after birth. Therefore the target thresholds change with time, increasing error compared to the measurement of concentrations of TP in serum. Similarly, factors other than total concentrations of IgG have a significant effect on the association with ZST test, complicating interpretation. Thus, when direct measurement of concentrations of IgG is not feasible, the recommendation is that concentrations of TP in serum should be used as the diagnostic test for diagnosis of FPT, providing calves are not dehydrated. Using a sample size of 12 calves is suitable for estimating whether the herd-level prevalence of FPT is <20% or >20%, if there are no calves or >5 calves diagnosed with FPT, respectively, but is limited in diagnostic confidence when 1–4 calves test positive. Diagnostic interpretation can be significantly improved if tests of FPT are used alongside information on the likely risk of FPT on the tested farm.

Keywords: Failure of passive transfer, radial immunodiffusion, total protein, γ-glutamyl transferase, zinc sulfate turbidity, sample size


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