Improved reliability of serological tools for the diagnosis of West Nile fever in horses within Europe

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2017 Sep 15;11(9):e0005936. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0005936. eCollection 2017 Sep.


West Nile Fever is a zoonotic disease caused by a mosquito-borne flavivirus, WNV. By its clinical sensitivity to the disease, the horse is a useful sentinel of infection. Because of the virus' low-level, short-term viraemia in horses, the primary tools used to diagnose WNV are serological tests. Inter-laboratory proficiency tests (ILPTs) were held in 2010 and 2013 to evaluate WNV serological diagnostic tools suited for the European network of National Reference Laboratories (NRLs) for equine diseases. These ILPTs were designed to evaluate the laboratories' and methods' performances in detecting WNV infection in horses through serology. The detection of WNV immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies by ELISA is widely used in Europe, with 17 NRLs in 2010 and 20 NRLs in 2013 using IgG WNV assays. Thanks to the development of new commercial IgM capture kits, WNV IgM capture ELISAs were rapidly implemented in NRLs between 2010 (4 NRLs) and 2013 (13 NRLs). The use of kits allowed the quick standardisation of WNV IgG and IgM detection assays in NRLs with more than 95% (20/21) and 100% (13/13) of satisfactory results respectively in 2013. Conversely, virus neutralisation tests (VNTs) were implemented in 33% (7/21) of NRLs in 2013 and their low sensitivity was evidenced in 29% (2/7) of NRLs during this ILPT. A comparison of serological diagnostic methods highlighted the higher sensitivity of IgG ELISAs compared to WNV VNTs. They also revealed that the low specificity of IgG ELISA kits meant that it could detect animals infected with other flaviviruses. In contrast VNT and IgM ELISA assays were highly specific and did not detect antibodies against related flaviviruses. These results argue in favour of the need for and development of new, specific serological diagnostic assays that could be easily transferred to partner laboratories.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay / standards*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Horse Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Horse Diseases / virology
  • Horses
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Immunoglobulin M / blood
  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • West Nile Fever / diagnosis
  • West Nile Fever / epidemiology
  • West Nile Fever / veterinary*
  • West Nile Fever / virology
  • West Nile virus / immunology*
  • West Nile virus / isolation & purification
  • Zoonoses


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic

Grants and funding

This study was supported by the European Commission through DG SANTE (European reference laboratory for equine diseases). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.