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J Virol Methods. 2009 Apr;157(1):15-24. doi: 10.1016/j.jviromet.2008.12.003. Epub 2009 Jan 20.

Laboratory safe detection of nucleocapsid protein of Rift Valley fever virus in human and animal specimens by a sandwich ELISA.

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Special Pathogens Unit, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Private Bag X4, Sandringham 2131, South Africa.


A safe laboratory procedure, based on a sandwich ELISA (sAg-ELISA), was developed and evaluated for the detection of nucleocapsid protein (NP) of Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) in specimens inactivated at 56 degrees C for 1h in the presence of 0.5% Tween-20 (v/v) before testing. Polyclonal capture and detection immune sera were generated respectively in sheep and rabbits immunized with recombinant NP antigen. The assay was highly repeatable and specific; it detected strains of RVFV from the entire distributional range of the disease, isolated over a period of 53 years; no cross-reactivity with genetically related African phleboviruses or other members of the family Bunyaviridae was observed. In specimens spiked with RVFV, including human and animal sera, homogenates of liver and spleen tissues of domestic ruminants, and Anopheles mosquito homogenates, the sAg-ELISA detection limit ranged from log(10)10(2.2) to 10(3.2) TCID(50)/reaction volume. The ELISA detected NP antigen in spiked bovine and sheep liver homogenates up to at least 8 days of incubation at 37 degrees C whereas infectious virus could not be detected at 48h incubation in these adverse conditions. Compared to virus isolation from sera from RVF patients and sheep infected experimentally, the ELISA had 67.7% and 70% sensitivity, and 97.97% and 100% specificity, respectively. The assay was 100% accurate when testing tissues of various organs from mice infected experimentally and buffalo foetuses infected naturally. The assay was able to detect NP antigen in infective culture supernatants 16-24h before cytopathic effects were observed microscopically and as early as 8h after inoculation with 10(5.8) TCID(50)/ml of RVFV. This ability renders the assay for rapid identification of the virus when its primary isolation is attempted in vitro. As a highly specific, safe and simple assay format, the sAg-ELISA represents a valuable diagnostic tool for use in less equipped laboratories in Africa, and for routine differential diagnosis of viral hemorrhagic fevers.

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