Equine seroprevalence of West Nile virus antibodies in the UK in 2019
Parasites & Vectors
Background West Nile virus (WNV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that can cause neurological disease in both humans and horses. Due to the movement of competent vectors and viraemic hosts, WNV has repeatedly emerged globally and more recently in western Europe. Within the UK, WNV is a notifiable disease in horses, and vaccines against the virus are commercially available. However, there has been no investigation into the seroprevalence of WNV in the UK equine population to determine the extent
... vaccination or to provide evidence of recent infection. Methods Equine serum samples were obtained from the Animal and Plant Health Agency's equine testing service between August and November 2019. A total of 988 serum samples were selected for horses resident in South East England. WNV seroprevalence was determined using two enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) to detect total flavivirus antibodies and WNV-specific immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies. Positive IgM results were investigated by contacting the submitting veterinarian to establish the clinical history or evidence of prior vaccination of the horses in question. Results Within the cohort, 274 samples tested positive for flavivirus antibodies, of which two subsequently tested positive for WNV-specific IgM antibodies. The follow-up investigation established that both horses had been vaccinated prior to serum samples being drawn, which resulted in an IgM-positive response. All the samples that tested positive by competition ELISA were from horses set to be exported to countries where WNV is endemic. Consequently, the positive results were likely due to previous vaccination. In contrast, 714 samples were seronegative, indicating that the majority of the UK equine population may be susceptible to WNV infection. Conclusions There was no evidence for cryptic WNV infection in a cohort of horses sampled in England in 2019. All IgM-seropositive cases were due to vaccination; this should be noted for future epidemiological surveys in the event of a disease outbreak, as it is not possible to distinguish vaccinated from infected horses without knowledge of their clinical histories.