While the clinical utility of next-generation DNA sequencing (NGS) as a diagnostic tool for infections in humans and traditional pets has been demonstrated, there is a lack of data regarding its utility for exotic animals. For exotic patients, traditional culturing is especially challenging for anaerobic and fungal pathogens. Therefore, diagnosis often relies on PCR, which provides a high degree of sensitivity and specificity, although it targets only a predetermined, finite pathogen panel. NGS provides the same benefits as PCR, while also offering de novo identification and quantification of all bacteria and fungi present in a clinical sample, including novel pathogen discovery.
Clinical samples from 78 exotic animal patients were collected simultaneously for conventional culture testing and NGS analysis. Results provided by each laboratory were compared for the presence and absence of bacterial and fungal pathogens and commensals.
Results showed large bacterial and fungal species diversity in the study cohort and a lack of sensitivity of microbial culture testing. Culture failed to grow 15% of putative bacterial and 81% of putative fungal pathogens that were identified by NGS. The probability of a “no growth” diagnosis was 14% higher for bacteria and 49% higher for fungi with culture versus NGS testing if fungal culture was conducted.
Culture testing failed to diagnose a substantial number of both bacterial and fungal pathogens, which were detected by NGS. This highlights the limitations of traditional culture-based testing and displays the clinically advanced utility of NGS-based diagnostics in exotic animal medicine.