Comparison of five diagnostic methods for detecting bovine viral diarrhea virus infection in calves

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Correspondence: 1 Corresponding Author: Monika Hilbe, Institute of Veterinary Pathology, Winterthurerstrasse 268, 8057 Zurich, University of Zurich, Vetsuisse-Faculty, Switzerland, e-mail:

Five diagnostic techniques performed on skin biopsies (shoulder region) and/or serum were compared for detection of bovine viral diarrhea virus infection in 224 calves 0–3 months of age, 23 calves older than 3 months but younger than 7 months, and 11 cattle older than 7 months. The diagnostic methods used were immunohistochemistry (IHC), 2 commercial antigen ELISAs, 1 commercial antibody ELISA, and real-time RT-PCR. Results of 249 out of 258 skin and serum samples were identical and correlated within the 3 antigen detection methods and the real-time RT-PCR used. Twenty-six of these 249 samples were BVDV-positive with all antigen detection methods and the real-time RT-PCR. Nine out of 258 samples yielding discordant results were additionally examined by RT-PCR, RT-PCR Reamplification (ReA), and antigen ELISA I on serum and by immunohistochemistry on formalin fixed and paraffin-embedded skin biopsies. Virus isolation and genotyping was performed as well on these discordant samples. In 3 cases, transiently infected animals were identified. Two samples positive by real-time RT-PCR were interpreted as false positive and were ascribed to cross-contamination. The antigen ELISA II failed to detect 2 BVDV-positive calves due to the presence of maternal antibodies; the cause of 2 false-positive cases in this ELISA remained undetermined. Only persistently infected animals were identified in skin samples by IHC or antigen ELISA I. The 3 antigen detection methods and the real-time RT-PCR used in parallel had a high correlation rate (96.5%) and similar sensitivity and specificity values.

Key Words: Bovine viral diarrhea virus • ELISA • immunohistochemistry • real-time RT-PCR • serology



Hilbe M1, Stalder H, Peterhans E, Haessig M, et al.: J Vet Diagn Invest 19: 28-34, 2007.