Study: Blood Test More Accurate than Fecal Analysis for Detecting Equine Tapeworms

Researchers identified higher serum antibody levels against the equine tapeworm, Anoplocephala perfoliata, in horses with colic compared to horses without colic in a study conducted by Maarten Boswinkel DVM, Specialist KNMvD Equine Internal Medicine, and Marianne M. Sloet van Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan DVM, PhD, Dipl ECEIM, Specialist KNMvD Equine Internal Medicine, from the faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

In this study, 139 horses with colic and 139 control horses were evaluated for the presence of tapeworm antibodies. Results indicated that horses with colic and with ileocaecal disorders (ailments affecting the junction of the small intestine and cecum) had significantly elevated antibody levels compared to their non-colicky counterparts. Further, fecal analysis failed to detect tapeworms in infected horses.

How do these results impact North American horses? According to veterinary parasitologist Craig R. Reinemeyer, DVM, PhD, president of East Tennessee Clinical Research Inc., while serum antibody tests are better able to detect the presence of tapeworm infections compared to fecal analysis, antibody tests are not commonly utilized in day-to-day practice.

According to Reinemeyer, the only facility in the United States that currently performs the A. perfoliata antibody test is the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine. The assay costs $20 per sample.

"This antibody test is often not practical for individual horses in terms of both price and sensitivity," Reinemeyer said. "First, it is frequently more practical and economical to simply have the veterinarian deworm horses suspected of having tapeworm infections and second, there are still many horses with tapeworms that this test does not identify."

Nonetheless, when used in combination with efficacious deworming products and facility management strategies, this antibody test could be used to virtually eradicate tapeworms from many of the larger horse farms, Reinemeyer said. Further, this test lays the foundation for further research into A. perfoliata-associated colic and encourages the development of more practical and sensitive tests.

The abstract of the study "Correlation between colic and antibody levels against Anaplocephala perfoliata in horses in the Netherlands" published in July 2007 by Boswinkel and van Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan is available on PubMed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez). The full study is available in Tijdschrift Voor Diergeneeskunde.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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