Differential detection of tuberculous and non-tuberculous mycobacteria by qPCR in lavage fluids of tuberculosis-suspicious white rhinoceros
Tuberculosis (TB) occurs in a wide range of mammalian species and thus poses a health risk to humans living or working in close proximity with TB infected animals. Despite a high incidence of M. bovis infections in domestic or wildlife species tuberculosis infections in rhinoceros have so far been very limited. Over the past 53 years, tuberculosis of the respiratory tract has been confirmed in just 22 rhinoceros, most of those infected not by M. bovis but M. tuberculosis. However, because of the zoonotic risk TB testing is recommended or becomes even mandatory in endangered species. The dilemma in rhinoceros and many other wildlife species; non-validated tests are highly inconsistent in their ability to identify TB infection. Current lack of TB diagnostics may result in TB positive rhinoceros living with the infection, transmitting it to those around them or in euthanasia of animals found unconfirmed at necropsy. This is an unacceptable diagnostic status considering that some species are critically endangered and therefore should not be euthanized in order to confirm suspicion of disease. To overcome this shortcoming we used bronchoscopy to detect mycobacteria in respiratory fluids of TB suspicious rhinoceros. Fluids from seven, TB suspicious white rhinoceros were harvested during 21 bronchoscopies. Our new approach: In addition to bacterial culture a dual quantitative PCR system tested for the general presence of DNA from NTM and more specifically for DNA from MTC. Both, bacterial culture and qPCR were negative for MTC in respiratory fluids of all rhinoceros (7/7). At the same time, respiratory fluids from six rhinoceros tested positive for the presence of NTM or other closely related bacteria (6/7). M. tuberculosis was found only once in an oesophageal aspirate. The high incidence of mycobacterial DNA in the respiratory tract suggests that white rhinoceros, as strict grazers, are immensely exposed to environmental bacteria of this genus. Presence of NTM in the respiratory or intestinal system could possibly cause false positive results in intradermal tests. A wider use of bronchoalveolar lavage is warranted to further elucidate immunologic response to NTM and exposure to, incidence and prevalence of MTC infections in rhinoceros.