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Accuracy of a Mouse Bioassay for the Diagnosis of Botulism in Horses

Johnson, A.L., McAdams‐Gallagher, S.C., Aceto, H.
Journal of veterinary internal medicine 2016 v.30 no.4 pp. 1293-1299
adults, bioassays, botulism, feces, foals, gastrointestinal system, mice, retrospective studies
BACKGROUND: The laboratory diagnosis of botulism in horses traditionally has relied upon the mouse bioassay (MBA). The accuracy of this test for the diagnosis of botulism in horses is unknown. HYPOTHESIS/OBJECTIVES: Our goal was to determine the sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value of the MBA on laboratory‐processed fecal and gastrointestinal samples for foals and adult horses. ANIMALS: Cases included all horses with a final clinical diagnosis of botulism that were admitted between 1986 and 2011 and had MBA testing performed. Controls included horses without botulism that were admitted during the same time period and had MBA testing performed. METHODS: Retrospective study. Horses suspected of having botulism had fecal or (less commonly) gastrointestinal content samples tested using MBA. For every hospitalized botulism suspect, control samples were obtained from ≥1 additional hospitalized horses not suspected to have botulism. RESULTS: One hundred and twenty‐nine adult horses and 253 adult controls were identified. Overall sensitivity of the MBA was only 32% but specificity was 97%. Forty‐three foal cases and 21 foal controls were evaluated; sensitivity of the MBA was 53% and specificity was 100%. Positive predictive value was substantially higher (100% for foals and 89% for adults) than negative predictive value (51% for foals and 67% for adults). CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL IMPORTANCE: Mouse bioassay has low sensitivity but high specificity for the diagnosis of botulism in horses. Positive results are highly suggestive of botulism but negative results do not exclude the diagnosis. Unaffected horses and foals rarely shed C. botulinum in their feces.