Meat and Livestock Australia – After more than a decade of research in Australia and overseas, sheep and cattle producers now have a rapid diagnostic test for Johne’s disease, according to a report by Meat and Livestock Australia.
The new Johne’s disease (JD) test reduces waiting times for a diagnosis from three months to one week, decreasing the risk of further disease spread and reducing stress on affected producers.
The test, known as the High-Throughput-Johne’s assay (HT-J), was developed by researchers from the University of Sydney and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).
The research was part of a five-year, $6.4 million JD project led by Sydney University’s Professor Richard Whittington and funded by the MLA Donor Company in partnership with Animal Health Australia.
“This test is the culmination of at least a decade of very difficult research here and elsewhere,” he said.
“Most animals become infected with JD in the first one to 12 months of life, but don’t show signs of disease for years.
“They only shed minuscule amounts of bacteria in their faeces, which makes it very hard to detect, but they are capable of infecting other animals and other properties if sold.
“The challenge for us has been to try and detect the smallest quantity of JD bacteria in faecal samples.”
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After being approved by the sub-committee on Animal Health Laboratory Standards, the HT-J test underwent a trial by fire when Bovine JD was discovered in North Queensland in November 2012.
Intensive use of the new test revealed weaknesses, including the delivery of inconclusive results, which prompted industry-wide collaboration from researchers and laboratory technicians to quickly refine the HT-J.
MLA’s Animal Health and Biosecurity project manager, Dr Johann Schröder, said the test allowed affected producers to more quickly adopt corrective/remedial management strategies.
“The more quickly you can get a JD diagnosis, the more quickly you can stop further spread of the disease,” Johann said.
“It also reduces stress on producers – they no longer have to wait three months to find out if their property is affected or not.”
Richard emphasised that the new DNA test removed the delays associated with the culture test, but was not foolproof.
“Producers must work closely with their relevant veterinary services to interpret test results at a herd/flock level, and then properly deal with Johne’s disease,” he said.