OBJECTIVE: To develop and validate specific, sensitive and rapid (< 8 hour) diagnostic tests using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the diagnosis of abortion and respiratory disease caused by equine herpesvirus 1 (EHV1; equine abortion virus) and EHV4 (equine rhinopneumonitis virus). DESIGN: Primer sets based on nucleotide sequences encoding glycoprotein H (gH) of EHV1 and gB of EHV4 were designed and used in single round and second round (seminested) PCRs, and in a multiplex PCR for the diagnosis of EHV1 and EHV4 infections.
METHODS: Oligonucleotide primers were designed for each virus, PCR conditions were defined and the specificity and sensitivity of the assays were determined. The tests were applied to tissue samples from aborted equine foetuses and to nasopharyngeal swabs from horses with acute febrile respiratory disease.
RESULTS: Individual single round and a second round (seminested) EHV1 and EHV4 PCRs were specific in that EHV1 primers amplified all (n = 30) EHV1 isolates and did not amplify EHV4. Similarly EHV4 primers amplified all (n = 6) EHV4 isolates and did not amplify EHV1. Both PCRs were sensitive in that the first round EHV1 PCR detected 1220 molecules of EHV1 plasmid DNA and the first round EHV4 PCR detected 7280 molecules of EHV4 plasmid DNA. The EHV1 second round PCR was 100 times more sensitive in that it detected 12 molecules of EHV1 DNA and the EHV4 second round PCR was 1000 times more sensitive in that it detected 8 molecules of EHV4 DNA. There was a high correlation between detection of EHV1 by virus isolation and PCR when tissue samples from 71 aborted foetuses were examined; all samples positive by virus isolation were positive by PCR. Similarly the EHV4 PCR was at least as sensitive as virus isolation when applied to nasaopharyngeal swabs from horses with respiratory disease in that all samples positive by virus isolation were also positive by PCR.
CONCLUSION: Individual single round and second round (seminested) PCRs and a seminested multiplex PCR were developed that enabled reliable, rapid detection of EHV1 and EHV4 in aborted foetal tissues and nasopharyngeal swab samples.