Development of a live animal serological ELISA assay for detection and surveillance of brain worm in cervids

With funding from member states, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, NWDC administration and participating lab, Cornell University, are working with Dr. Richard Gerhold to develop a serological test that will allow for rapid screening of cervids for Parelaphostrongylus tenuis infection, the etiologic agent of meningeal worm (i.e. brain worm) infection. In the natural host, the white-tailed deer, P. tenuis larvae spend up to 1 month migrating within the dorsal horns of the spinal cord without producing clinical signs and then reside in the meninges. In other ungulates, severe infections often lead to mortality, and clinical signs and lesions of nonfatal infections include extensive central nervous system damage leading to crippling disease, circling, incoordination, or weakness. We foresee the test being used by wildlife researchers seeking to understand the transmission dynamics, epidemiology, attack rate, and geographical and host range of P. tenuis. We are also interested in using the ELISA to determine if subclinical or nonfatal P. tenuis infections predispose moose (Alces alces), elk (Cervus canadensis), and other cervids to other infectious diseases, loss of nutritional condition, trauma, or predation leading to cumulative negative population impacts.