Assessing the potential of plains zebra to maintain African horse sickness in the Western Cape Province, South Africa
African horse sickness (AHS) is a disease of equids that results in a non-tariff barrier to the trade of live equids from affected countries. AHS is endemic in South Africa except for a controlled area in the Western Cape Province (WCP) where sporadic outbreaks have occurred in the past 2 decades. There is potential that the presence of zebra populations, thought to be the natural reservoir hosts for AHS, in the WCP could maintain AHS virus circulation in the area and act as a year-round source
... a year-round source of infection for horses. However, it remains unclear whether the epidemiology or the ecological conditions present in the WCP would enable persistent circulation of AHS in the local zebra populations. Here we developed a hybrid deterministic-stochastic vector-host compartmental model of AHS transmission in plains zebra (Equus quagga), where host populations are age- and sex-structured and for which population and AHS transmission dynamics are modulated by rainfall and temperature conditions. Using this model, we showed that populations of plains zebra present in the WCP are not sufficiently large for AHS introduction events to become endemic and that coastal populations of zebra need to be >2500 individuals for AHS to persist >2 years, even if zebras are infectious for more than 50 days. AHS cannot become endemic in the coastal population of the WCP unless the zebra population involves at least 50,000 individuals. Finally, inland populations of plains zebra in the WCP may represent a risk for AHS to persist but would require populations of at least 500 zebras or show unrealistic duration of infectiousness for AHS introduction events to become endemic. Our results provide evidence that the risk of AHS persistence from a single introduction event in a given plains zebra population in the WCP is extremely low and it is unlikely to represent a long-term source of infection for local horses.