New technologies to diagnose and monitor infectious diseases of livestock: Challenges for sub-Saharan Africa

Using foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) as an example, this review describes new tools that can be used to detect and characterise livestock diseases. In recent years, molecular tests that can detect and characterise pathogens in a diverse range of sample types have revolutionised laboratory diagnostics. In addition to use in centralised laboratories, there are opportunities to locate diagnostic technologies close to the animals with suspected clinical signs. Work in this area has developed simple-to-use lateral-flow devices for the detection of FMD virus (FMDV), as well as new hardware platforms to allow molecular testing to be deployed into the field for use by non-specialists. Once FMDV has been detected, nucleotide sequencing is used to compare field strains with reference viruses. Transboundary movements of FMDV are routinely monitored using VP1 sequence data, while higher resolution transmission trees (at the farm-to-farm level) can be reconstructed using full-genome sequencing approaches. New technologies such as next-generation sequencing technologies are now being applied to dissect the viral sequence populations that exist within single samples. The driving force for the use of these technologies has largely been influenced by the priorities of developed countries with FMD-free (without vaccination) status. However, it is important to recognise that these approaches also show considerable promise for use in countries where FMD is endemic, although further modifications (such as sample archiving and strain and serotype characterisation) may be required to tailor these tests for use in these regions. Access to these new diagnostic and sequencing technologies in sub-Saharan Africa have the potential to provide novel insights into FMD epidemiology and will impact upon improved strategies for disease control. Effective control of infectious diseases is reliant upon accurate diagnosis of clinical cases using laboratory tests, together with an understanding of factors that impact upon the epidemiology of the infectious agent. A wide range of new diagnostic tools and nucleotide sequencing methods are used by international reference laboratories to detect and characterise the agents causing outbreaks of infectious diseases. In the past, high costs (initial capital expenses, as well as day-to-day maintenance and running costs) and complexity of the protocols used to perform some of these tests have limited the use of these methods in smaller laboratories. However, simpler and more cost-effective formats are now being developed that offer the prospect that these technologies will be even more widely deployed into laboratories particularly those in developing regions of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa.

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