1999 Volume 37, Issue 6, p1980-4
The "gold standard" for identifying Yersinia pestis-infected fleas has been inoculation of mice with pooled flea material. Inoculated mice are monitored for 21 days, and those that die are further analyzed for Y. pestis infection by fluorescent-antibody assay and/or culture. PCR may provide a more rapid and sensitive alternative for identifying Y. pestis in fleas. To compare these assays, samples were prepared from 381 field-collected fleas. Each flea was analyzed individually by both PCR and mouse inoculation. Sixty of the 381 flea samples were positive for Y. pestis by PCR; 48 of these PCR-positive samples caused death in mice (80.0% agreement). None of the 321 PCR-negative samples caused death. Among the 12 mice that survived inoculation with PCR-positive samples, 10 were later demonstrated by serology or culture to have been infected with Y. pestis. This suggests that death of inoculated mice is less reliable than PCR as an indicator of the presence of Y. pestis in flea samples. Mouse inoculation assays produce results that are comparable to PCR only when surviving as well as dead mice are analyzed for infection. The rapidity and sensitivity (10 to 100 CFU of Y. pestis) of PCR suggest that it could serve as a useful alternative to mouse inoculation for routine plague surveillance and outbreak investigations.
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