Veterinarians who conduct fecal egg counts might be interested in reviewing this article by Martin Nielsen, DVM, PhD, DipEVPC, the Schlaikjer professor of Equine Infectious Disease at the Gluck Equine Research Center. His research focus is equine parasitology.
“The first parasite fecal egg counting techniques were described over 100 years ago, and fecal egg counting remains essential in parasitology research as well as in clinical practice today. Several novel techniques have been introduced and validated in recent years, but this work has also highlighted several current issues in this research field. There is a lack of consensus on which diagnostic parameters to evaluate and how to properly design studies doing so. Furthermore, there is a confusing and sometimes incorrect use of terminology describing performance of fecal egg counting techniques, and it would be helpful to address these. This manuscript reviews qualitative and quantitative diagnostic performance parameters, discusses their relevance for fecal egg counting techniques, and highlights some of the challenges with determining them. Qualitative parameters such as diagnostic sensitivity and specificity may be considered classic diagnostic performance metrics, but they generally only have implications at low egg count levels. The detection limit of a given technique is often referred to as the ‘analytical sensitivity,’ but this is misleading as the detection limit is a theoretically derived number, whereas analytical sensitivity is determined experimentally. Thus, the detection limit is not a diagnostic performance parameter and does not inform on the diagnostic sensitivity of a technique. Quantitative performance parameters such as accuracy and precision are highly relevant for describing the performance of fecal egg counting techniques, and precision is arguably the more important of the two. An absolute determination of accuracy can only be achieved by use of samples spiked with known quantities of parasite ova, but spiking does not necessarily mimic the true distribution of eggs within a sample, and accuracy estimates are difficult to reproduce between laboratories. Instead, analysis of samples from naturally infected animals can be used to achieve a relative ranking of techniques according to egg count magnitude. Precision can be estimated in a number of different approaches, but it is important to ensure a relevant representation of egg count levels in the study sample set, as low egg counts tend to associate with lower precision estimates. Coefficients of variation generally provide meaningful measures of precision that are independent of the multiplication factor of the techniques evaluated. Taken together, there is a need for clear guidelines for studies validating fecal egg counting techniques in veterinary parasitology with emphasis on what should be evaluated, how studies could be designed, and how to appropriately analyze the data. Furthermore, there is a clear need for better consensus regarding use of terminology describing the diagnostic performance of fecal egg count techniques.”
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