[Source: Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, full page: (LINK). Abstract, edited.]
Usutu Virus Epizootic in Belgium in 2017 and 2018: Evidence of Virus Endemization and Ongoing Introduction Events
Emna Benzarti, Michaël Sarlet, Mathieu Franssen, Daniel Cadar, Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, Jose Felipe Rivas, Annick Linden, Daniel Desmecht, and Mutien Garigliany
Published Online: 3 Sep 2019 / DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/vbz.2019.2469
Wildlife surveillance allowed the monitoring of the zoonotic mosquito-borne Usutu virus (USUV) in birds and bats (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) in southern Belgium in 2017 and 2018. USUV-RNA was detected in 69 birds (of 253) from 15 species, among which 7 species had not previously been reported to be susceptible to the infection. Similarly, 2 bats (of 10) were detected positive by reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). USUV-associated lesions were mainly found in Eurasian Blackbirds (Turdus merula), in which USUV antigens were demonstrated by immunohistochemistry in the brain, heart, liver, kidney, intestine, and lung. Partial nonstructural protein 5 gene-based phylogenetic analysis showed several identical or closely related strains from 2016, 2017, and 2018 clustering together within Europe 3 or Africa 3 lineages. Further, one USUV strain detected in a common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) manifested a close genetic relationship with the European 1 strains circulating in Hungary and Austria. Our data provide evidence of USUV endemization in southern Belgium in local birds and bats, extension of the host range of the virus and ongoing virus introduction from abroad, likely by migratory birds. Our results highlight the need for vigilance in the forthcoming years toward new virus-associated outbreaks in birds and possible human infections in Belgium.
Keywords: Usutu virus; Bats; Wild Birds; Belgium.