Abstract: In 2011 an unprecedented epidemic of equine encephalitis occurred in south-eastern (SE) Australia following heavy rainfall and severe flooding in the preceding 2–4 months. Less than 6% of the documented cases occurred in Queensland, prompting the question of pre-existing immunity in Queensland horses. A small-scale serological survey was conducted on horses residing in one of the severely flood-affected areas of SE-Queensland. Using a flavivirus-specific blocking-ELISA we found that 63% (39/62) of horses older than 3 years were positive for flavivirus antibodies, and of these 18% (7/38) had neutralizing antibodies to Murray Valley encephalitis virus (MVEV), Kunjin virus (WNVKUN) and/or Alfuy virus (ALFV). The remainder had serum-neutralizing antibodies to viruses in the Kokobera virus (KOKV) complex or antibodies to unknown/untested flaviviruses. Amongst eight yearlings one presented with clinical MVEV-encephalomyelitis, while another, clinically normal, had MVEV-neutralizing antibodies. The remaining six yearlings were flavivirus antibody negative. Of 19 foals born between August and November 2011 all were flavivirus antibody negative in January 2012. This suggests that horses in the area acquire over time active immunity to a range of flaviviruses. Nevertheless, the relatively infrequent seropositivity to MVEV, WNVKUN and ALFV (15%) suggests that factors other than pre-existing immunity may have contributed to the low incidence of arboviral disease in SE-Queensland horses during the 2011 epidemic.
Keywords: flavivirus; equine; antibody response; mosquito-borne; encephalitis
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Prow, N.A.; Tan, C.S.E.; Wang, W.; Hobson-Peters, J.; Kidd, L.; Barton, A.; Wright, J.; Hall, R.A.; Bielefeldt-Ohmann, H. Natural Exposure of Horses to Mosquito-Borne Flaviviruses in South-East Queensland, Australia. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10, 4432-4443.
Prow NA, Tan CSE, Wang W, Hobson-Peters J, Kidd L, Barton A, Wright J, Hall RA, Bielefeldt-Ohmann H. Natural Exposure of Horses to Mosquito-Borne Flaviviruses in South-East Queensland, Australia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2013; 10(9):4432-4443.
Prow, Natalie A.; Tan, Cindy S.E.; Wang, Wenqi; Hobson-Peters, Jody; Kidd, Lisa; Barton, Anita; Wright, John; Hall, Roy A.; Bielefeldt-Ohmann, Helle. 2013. "Natural Exposure of Horses to Mosquito-Borne Flaviviruses in South-East Queensland, Australia." Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 10, no. 9: 4432-4443.