ELISA and fecal culture for paratuberculosis (Johne's disease): Sensitivity and specificity of each method

R. H. Whitlock, S. J. Wells, R. W. Sweeney, J. Van Tiem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

321 Scopus citations


The sensitivity and specificity of the ELISA and fecal culture tests for paratuberculosis in dairy cattle are examined. ELISA and fecal culture data from seven dairy herds where both fecal cultures and ELISA testing was done concurrently are included. A cohort of 954 cattle including 697 parturient adults, cultured every 6 months from 10 herds followed over 4 years served as the basis to determine fecal culture sensitivity. The fecal culture technique utilized a 2 g sample with centrifugation and double incubation. Of the 954 cattle cohort of all ages (calf to adult) that were fecal sampled on the first herd visit, 79 were culture positive. An additional 131 animals were detected as culture positive over the next seven tests at 6-month intervals. The sensitivity of fecal culture to detect infected cattle on the first sampling was 38%. Of the 697 parturient cattle cohort, 67 were positive on the first fecal culture, while an additional 91 adult cattle were culture positive over the next seven tests, resulting in a sensitivity of 42% on the first culture of the total animals identified as culture positive. Animals culled from the herds prior to being detected as infected and animals always fecal culture negative with culture positive tissues at slaughter are not included in the calculations. Both groups of infected cattle will lower the apparent sensitivity of fecal culture. Infected dairy herds tested concurrently with both fecal culture and ELISA usually resulted in more than twofold positive animals by culture compared to ELISA. The classification of infected cattle by the extent of shedding of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis in the feces helps define the relative proportion of cattle in each group and therefore the likelihood of detection by the ELISA test. ELISA has a higher sensitivity in animals with a heavier bacterial load, i.e. high shedders (75%) compared to low shedders (15%). Repeated testing of infected herds identifies a higher proportion of low shedders which are more likely to be ELISA negative. Thus, the sensitivity of the ELISA test decreases with repeated herd testing over time, since heavy shedders will be culled first from the herds. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-398
Number of pages12
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Dec 20 2000

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2007 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Johne's disease
  • Mycobacterium paratuberculosis
  • Sensitivity


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