17-08-2006 - Bluetongue outbreak in the Netherlands
< Back to news
On a farm in Kerkrade, the Netherlands, a definite diagnosis of Bluetongue was made on thursday the 17'th of august. At this moment a export prohibition has been called of for living ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) and for life products of these species in the Netherlands Additional measures have been taken for area's up till 150 kilometers around contaminated farms.
What is Bleutongue?
Bluetongue is an infectious, noncontagious arthropodborne viral disease primarily of domestic and wild ruminants. Infection with bluetongue virus is common worldwide but is usually subclinical or mild in most infected ruminants. Bluetongue is almost exclusively a disease of sheep, particularly the fine-wool and mutton breeds, although white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus ), and pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) and desert bighorn sheep ( Ovis canadensis ) may develop severe clinical disease in North America.
Etiology and Transmission:
Bluetongue virus is the type-species of the genus Orbivirus in the family Reoviridae. There are 24 serotypes worldwide, although not all serotypes exist in any one geographic area, eg, only 5 serotypes (2, 10, 11, 13, and 17) have been reported in the USA. Distribution throughout the world parallels the spatial and temporal distribution of vector species of Culicoides biting midges, which are the only significant natural transmitters of the virus. Of more than 1,400 Culicoides species worldwide, fewer than 20 are actual or possible vectors of bluetongue virus. Continued cycling of the virus among competent Culicoides vectors and susceptible ruminants is critical to viral ecology. In the USA, the principal biologic vector is C variipennis sonorensis , which limits distribution of the virus to southern and western regions. In Australia the principal vector is C brevitarsis , while in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East it is C imicola . In each geographic region, secondary vector species may attain local importance. Vectors become infected with bluetongue virus by imbibing blood from infected vertebrates; transovarial transmission has not been reported. High affinity of the virus to blood cells, especially the sequestering of viral particles in invaginations of RBC membranes, contributes to prolonged viremia in the presence of neutralizing antibody. The extended viremia in cattle (up to 9 wk), and the host preference of most vector species of Culicoides for cattle, provides a mechanism for year-round transmission in domestic ruminants. Mechanical transmission by other bloodsucking insects is of minor significance. Bluetongue virus is not contagious, and concentrations in secretions and excretions are minimal, making oral or aerosol transmission unlikely. However, semen from viremic bulls can serve as a source of infection for cows through natural service or artificial insemination. Embryo transfer is regarded as safe, provided that donors are not viremic and an appropriate washing procedure for embryos is used. Accidental infection has been reported in dogs in the USA following administration of a modified live virus vaccine that was contaminated with the virus. Serologic evidence of infection with bluetongue virus has been found in large carnivores in Africa, perhaps as a result of ingesting virus-infected viscera.
The course of the disease in sheep can vary from peracute to chronic, with a mortality rate of 2-30%. Peracute cases die within 7-9 days of infection, mostly as a result of severe pulmonary edema leading to dyspnea, frothing from the nostrils, and death by asphyxiation. In chronic cases, sheep may die 3-5 wk after infection, mainly as a result of bacterial complications, especially pasteurellosis, and exhaustion. Mild cases usually recover rapidly and completely. The major production losses include deaths, unthriftiness during prolonged convalescence, wool breaks, and possibly reproductive loss. In sheep, bluetongue virus causes vascular endothelial damage, resulting in changes to capillary permeability and subsequent intravascular coagulation. This results in edema, congestion, hemorrhage, inflammation, and necrosis. The clinical signs in sheep are typical. After an incubation period of 4-6 days, a fever of 105-107.5°F (40.5-42°C) develops. The animals are listless and reluctant to move. Clinical signs in young lambs are more apparent, and the mortality rate is higher (up to 30%). About 2 days after onset of fever, additional clinical signs such as edema of lips, nose, face, submandibular area, eyelids, and sometimes ears; congestion of mouth, nose, nasal cavity, conjunctiva, and coronary bands; and lameness and depression may be seen. A serous nasal discharge is common, later becoming mucopurulent. The congestion of nose and nasal cavity produces a “sore muzzle” effect, the term used to describe the disease in sheep in the USA. Sheep eat less because of oral soreness and will hold food in their mouths to soften before chewing. They may champ to produce a frothy oral discharge at the corners of the lips. On close examination, small hemorrhages can be seen on the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth. Ulceration develops where the teeth come in contact with lips and tongue, especially in areas of most friction. Some affected sheep have severe swelling of the tongue, which may become cyanotic (‘blue tongue”) and even protrude from the mouth. Animals walk with difficulty as a result of inflammation of the hoof coronets. A purple-red color is easily seen as a band at the junction of the skin and the hoof. Later in the course of disease, lameness or torticollis is due to skeletal muscle damage. In most affected animals, abnormal wool growth resulting from dermatitis may be observed.
The pathogenesis of bluetongue in cattle seems to differ from that in sheep and is based on immediate IgE hypersensitivity reactions. Clinical signs in cattle are rare but may be similar to those seen in sheep. They are usually limited to fever, increased respiratory rate, lacrimation, salivation, stiffness, oral vesicles and ulcers, hyperesthesia, and a vesicular and ulcerative dermatitis. Susceptible cattle and sheep infected during pregnancy may abort or deliver malformed calves or lambs. The malformations include hydranencephaly or porencephaly, which results in ataxia and blindness at birth. White-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope develop severe hemorrhagic disease leading to sudden death. Pregnant dogs abort or give birth to stillborn pups and then die in 3-7 days.
Diagnosis and Lesions:
The typical clinical signs of bluetongue enable a presumptive diagnosis, especially in areas where the disease is endemic. Suspicion is confirmed by the presence of petechiae, ecchymoses, or hemorrhages in the wall of the base of the pulmonary artery and focal necrosis of the papillary muscle of the left ventricle. These highly characteristic lesions are usually obvious in severe clinical infections but may be barely visible in mild or convalescent cases. These lesions are often described as pathognomonic for bluetongue, but they have also been observed occasionally in other ovine diseases such as heartwater, pulpy kidney disease, and Rift Valley fever. Hemorrhages and necrosis are usually found where mechanical abrasion damages fragile capillaries, such as on the buccal surface of the cheek opposite the molar teeth and the mucosa of the esophageal groove and omasal folds. Other autopsy findings include subcutaneous and intermuscular edema, skeletal myonecrosis, myocardial and intestinal hemorrhages, hydrothorax, hydropericardium, pericarditis, and pneumonia. In many areas of the world, bluetongue in sheep, and especially in other ruminants, is subclinical and, therefore, laboratory confirmation based on virus isolation in embryonated chicken eggs, susceptible sheep, or cell cultures, or the identification of viral RNA by PCR is necessary. The identity of isolates may be confirmed by the group-specific antigen-capture ELISA, immunofluorescence, immunoperoxidase, serotype-specific virus neutralization tests, or hybridization with complementary gene sequences of group- or serotype-specific genes. For virus isolation, blood (10-20 mL) is collected as early as possible from febrile animals into an anticoagulant such as heparin, sodium citrate, or EDTA and transported at 4°C to the laboratory. For longterm storage where refrigeration is not possible, blood is collected in oxalate-phenol-glycerin (OPG). Blood to be frozen should be collected in buffered lactose peptone and stored at or below -70°C. Blood collected at later times during the viremic period should not be frozen, as lysing of the RBC or thawing releases the cell-associated virus, which may then be neutralized by early humoral antibody. The virus does not remain stable for long at -20°C. In fatal cases, specimens of spleen, lymph nodes, or red bone marrow are collected and transported to the laboratory at 4°C as soon as possible after death. A serologic response in ruminants can be detected 7-14 days after infection and is generally lifelong. Current recommended serologic techniques for the detection of bluetongue virus antibody include agar gel immunodiffusion and competitive ELISA. The latter is the test of choice and does not detect cross-reacting antibody to other orbiviruses, especially anti-EHDV (epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus) antibody. Various forms of virus neutralization test, including plaque reduction, plaque inhibition, and microtiter neutralization can be used to detect type-specific antibody.
Prevention and Control:
Prophylactic immunization of sheep remains the most effective and practical control measure against bluetongue in endemic regions. Three polyvalent vaccines, each comprising 5 different bluetongue virus serotypes attenuated by serial passage in embryonated hens’ eggs followed by growth and plaque selection in cell culture, are widely used in southern Africa and elsewhere, should epizootics of bluetongue occur. A monovalent modified live virus vaccine propagated in cell culture is available for use in sheep in the USA. Live-attenuated vaccines should not be used during Culicoides vector seasons because they may transmit the vaccine virus(es) from vaccinated to nonvaccinated animals, eg, other ruminant species. This may result in reassortment of genetic material and give rise to new viral strains. Abortion or malformation, particularly of the CNS, of fetuses may follow vaccination of ewes and cows with attenuated live vaccines during the first half and the first trimester of pregnancy, respectively. Passive immunity in lambs usually lasts 4-6 mo. The control of bluetongue is different in areas where the disease is not endemic. During an outbreak, when one or a limited number of serotypes may be involved, vaccination strategy depends on the serotype(s) that are causing infection. Use of vaccine strains other than the one(s) causing infection affords little or no protection. The vector status, potential risk from vaccine virus reassortment with wild-type viral strains, virus spread by the vectors to other susceptible ruminants, and reversion to virulence of vaccine virus strains or even the production of new serotypes also should be considered. Although a number of noninfectious vaccines are in development, they are not yet commercially available. Control of vectors by using insecticides or protection from vectors by moving animals into barns during the evening hours lowers the number of Culicoides bites and subsequently the risk of exposure to bluetongue virus infection.