Saliva test being developed to detect encysted small strongyle burdens

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A simple saliva swab could be all that is needed to test for levels of encysted small strongyles. Photo: Moredun Institute
A simple saliva swab could be all that is needed to test for levels of encysted small strongyles. Photo: Moredun Institute

A saliva test to assess levels of encysted small strongyle larvae in horses is being developed.

Researchers in Scotland are working to develop a blood test to detect levels of the encysted worm, and are now collaborating with the company Austin Davis Biologics to adapt the test for use with saliva samples.

Scientists at the Moredun research facility say the diagnostic test will detect antibodies to the troublesome parasite during the life stage when it is encysted in the gut wall of infected horses.

If successful, the saliva test would simplify the sample collection process for horse owners, enabling them to take samples directly from their horses for analysis.

Small strongyles, also known as cyathostomins, are commonly found in the gut of grazing horses.

Generally, the higher the worm burden, the higher the risk of clinical disease in the horse.

The effects of infection with these worms range from a dull coat and weight loss to colic, severe diarrhoea and death.

The immature stages (larvae) play an important role in these disease syndromes. Direct methods for the detection of these immature states do not exist, preventing specific diagnosis and targeted treatment of the infection.

For the early stages of this collaborative project, scientists are working with equine veterinary practices to collect matched samples of blood and saliva and, after initial development, saliva test results will be compared with the previously validated blood test.

Group leader Professor Jacqui Matthews, who is developing the diagnostic blood test at Moredun, said her group was pleased to working with Austin Davis Biologics, which had significant experience in developing saliva-based tests for the equine market.

Austin Davis Biologics’ Dr Corrine Austin said a saliva test for encysted cyathostomins would provide horse owners, vets and animal medicines advisers with a new tool to target the treatment of cyathostomin infections in horses.

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