Saturday, 20 April 2019

‘Sentinel Chickens’ Shed Light on US Resurgence of Deadly Mosquito-Borne Virus

Analysis of “sentinel chickens”—flocks deployed specifically to detect the presence of mosquito-borne diseases—reveals the Florida Panhandle as the likely epicenter of a rare but deadly virus that has re-emerged in recent years to spread as far north as Canada, according to a new study published recently in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in collaboration with the Florida Department of Health and the University of South Florida, investigated transmission patterns for Eastern equine encephalitis virus, or EEEV, the deadliest mosquito-borne disease in North America. After decades of sporadic activity, the virus re-emerged about 14 years ago with a spate of cases from Florida to New England and into Nova Scotia, Canada. Infections, which can sicken humans and horses, can progress to a dangerous brain infection. And while that’s rare in humans—only about 70 cases have been reported since 2008—the fact that 30 (43 percent) of victims died has prompted intensive surveillance.

In the current study, researchers analyzed blood samples from thousands of chickens used by state health officials across Florida from 2005 to 2016 to alert them to the presence of EEEV. Chickens can get infected but don’t get sick or transmit the disease. Evidence from the chickens revealed that EEEV is present year-round in the Florida Panhandle and that the region could be “seeding” the virus for the rest of Florida and for Northeastern states as well (EEEV is not found west of the Mississippi River). They believe their findings could lead to disease control efforts in the Panhandle that could reduce risks elsewhere in the United States.


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology

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