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Equine Vet J. 2000 Nov;32(6):515-26.

Control of strangles outbreaks by isolation of guttural pouch carriers identified using PCR and culture of Streptococcus equi.

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Centre for Preventive Medicine, Animal Health Trust, Newmarket, Suffolk, UK.


Previous use of repeated nasopharyngeal swabbing and culture of Streptococcus equi showed that healthy carriers developed in more than 50% of 'strangles' outbreaks. The guttural pouches were the only detectable site of S. equi colonisation on endoscopic examination of horses during one of these outbreaks and S. equi was sometimes not detected by culture of nasopharyngeal swabs from carriers for up to 2 or 3 months before nasal shedding resumed sporadically. A more sensitive way of detecting S. equi on swabs from established guttural pouch carriers was therefore required. Conveniently selected 'strangles' outbreaks were investigated in detail using endoscopy, in order to develop and assess a suitable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. We report here 3 protracted 'strangles' outbreaks on different kinds of establishments in which between 29 and 52% of sampled horses were infected as detected by culture and/or PCR. Of the infected horses, between 9 and 44% were identified as carrying S. equi after clinical signs had disappeared and the predominant site of carriage was the guttural pouch. Prolonged carriage of S. equi, which lasted up to 8 months, did not cease spontaneously before treatment was initiated to eliminate the infections. The detection and isolation of the carriers, in conjunction with strict hygiene measures, apparently resulted in the control of the outbreaks and allowed the premises to return to normal activity. Comparing PCR and culture, many more swabs were found to be positive using PCR (56 vs. 30% of 61 swabs). Similar results were obtained for guttural pouch samples from 12 established carriers (PCR 76% and culture 59%). These results from repeated samples from relatively few animals need confirming using more long-term carriers. PCR can also detect dead organisms and is, therefore, liable to yield false positive results. Despite this drawback, it is argued that PCR provides a potentially useful adjunct to culture of nasopharyngeal swabs in the detection of asymptomatic carriers of S. equi following outbreaks of 'strangles'.

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