The impact of pooling samples on surveillance sensitivity for the megalocytivirus Infectious spleen and kidney necrosis virus.
Movements of large volumes and species varieties make the ornamental fish industry a high-risk pathway for the transfer of aquatic pathogens to new geographical regions and naïve hosts, potentially resulting in emergency disease events. Infectious spleen and kidney necrosis virus (genus Megalocytivirus) is considered exotic to Australia despite documented incursions since 2003. There are current import controls requiring freedom from infection for entry to Australia. The objective was to evaluate the effect of tissue pooling strategies for qPCR testing using a SYBR® assay for freedom from ISKNV at 2% expected prevalence with 95% confidence. Tissue homogenates from apparently healthy imported ornamental fish were tested as individuals and in pools of 5 and 10. Analytical sensitivity of the qPCR assay was reduced by two orders of magnitude when the nucleic acid extraction process was accounted for by spiking the plasmid in fish tissues and compared with molecular grade water. Diagnostic sensitivity of the assay was substantially reduced when testing tissues in pools compared with individual testing. For Population 1 (66% positive for ISKNV with moderate viral loads), surveillance sensitivity was only achieved using individual testing. For Population 2 (100% positive ISKNV with high viral loads), surveillance sensitivity was achieved using 260 fish in pools of 10 for a total of 26 tests or 200 fish in pools of 5 for 40 tests. Surveillance sensitivity could be maximized even when there was a reduction in pooled diagnostic sensitivity compared with diagnostic sensitivity for individual fish by increasing the sample size. Pooled sensitivity was influenced by the prevalence and variable virus load among fish with subclinical infections. Pooled testing is highly effective when the prevalence is >10% which should be informed by prior knowledge or pooling can be used for a screening test to rapidly identify populations with high prevalence.