Skip to main content
Log in

Mastitis in dairy production: Estimation of sensitivity, specificity and disease prevalence in the absence of a gold standard

  • Published:
Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Mastitis, a worldwide endemic disease of dairy cows, is an important cause of decreased efficiency in milk production. Early medical treatment can reduce the nonreversible losses in milk production caused by this infection. Various diagnostic tests for mastitis are available, including a test measuring the electrical conductivity of milk (MEC test), the industry standard of somatic cell counting (SCC test), a bacteriological test, and a recently developed test measuring mammary associated amyloid A (MAA test). None of these tests is considered a gold standard, however. The aim of the present study was to determine which of these tests provides the best results, and at what cost, to improve the efficiency of milk production. For this study, 25 cows were tested at all four quarters of the udder with each of the aforementioned mastitis diagnostic tests. Based on the data, the disease prevalence as well as the sensitivity and the specificity of the four tests were estimated with a Bayesian approach by extending the Hui and Walter model with two independent tests and two populations to a model with four partially dependent tests and one population. This model was further combined with a receiver operating characteristics analysis to estimate the overall test accuracy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Black, M. A., and Craig, B. A. (2002), “Estimating Disease Prevalence in the Absence of a Gold Standard,” Statistics in Medicine, 21, 2653–2669.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Enøe, C., Georgiadis, M. P., and Johnson, W. O. (2000), “Estimation of Sensitivity and Specificity of Diagnostic Tests and Disease Prevalence When the True Disease State Is Unknown,” Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 45, 61–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gardner, I. A., Stryhn, H., Lind, P., and Collins, M. T. (2000), “Conditional Dependence Between Tests Affects the Diagnosis and Surveillance of Animal Diseases,” Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 45, 107–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gilks, W. R., Richardson, S., and Spiegelhalter, D. J. (eds.) (1995), Markov Chain Monte Carlo in Practice, London: Chapman & Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoeting, J., Madigan, D., Raftery, A., and Volinsky, C. (1999), “Bayesian Model Averaging: A Tutorial,” Statistical Science, 14, 382–401.

    Article  MATH  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  • Hogeveen, H. (ed.) (2005), Mastitis in Dairy Production, The Netherlands: Wageningen Academic Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hui, S. L., and Walter, S. D. (1980), “Estimating the Error Rates of Diagnostic Tests,” Biometrics, 36, 167–171.

    Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  • Toft, N., Innocent, G. T., Gettinby, G., and Reid, S. W.J. (2007), “Assessing the Convergence of Markov Chain Monte Carlo Methods: An Example From Evaluation of Diagnostic Tests in Absence of a Gold Standard,” Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 79, 244–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Toft, N., Jørgensen, E., and Højsgaard, S. (2005), “Diagnosing Diagnostic Tests: Evaluating the Assumptions Underlying the Estimation of Sensitivity and Specificity in the Absence of a Gold Standard,” Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 68, 19–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walkenhorst, M. (2004), “Eine gute Prävention erhält die Eutergesundheit,” Die Grüne, 4, 38–39.

    Google Scholar 

  • Whyte, D. S., Johnstone, P. T., Claycomb, R. W., and Mein, G. A. (2004), “On-Line Sensors for Earlier, More Reliable Mastitis Detection,” in British Mastitis Conference 2004.

  • Zhou, X., Obuchowski, N. A., and McClish, D. K. (2002), Statistical Methods in Diagnostic Medicine, New York: Wiley.

    MATH  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Caroline Uhler.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Uhler, C. Mastitis in dairy production: Estimation of sensitivity, specificity and disease prevalence in the absence of a gold standard. JABES 14, 79–98 (2009).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Key Words