Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus infection of spiny rats

Enzootic strains of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) circulate in forested habitats of Mexico, Central, and South America, and spiny rats (Proechimys spp.) are believed to be the principal reservoir hosts in several foci. To better understand the host-pathogen interactions and resistance to disease characteristic of many reservoir hosts, the scientists performed experimental infections of F1 progeny from Proechimys chrysaeolus collected at a Colombian enzootic VEEV focus using sympatric and allopatric virus strains. All animals became viremic with a mean peak titer of 3.3 log10 PFU/mL, and all seroconverted with antibody titers from 1:20 to 1:640, which persisted up to 15 months. No signs of disease were observed, including after intracerebral injections. The lack of detectable disease and limited histopathologic lesions in these animals contrast dramatically with the severe disease and histopathologic findings observed in other laboratory rodents and humans, and support their role as reservoir hosts with a long-term coevolutionary relationship to VEEV.

Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) is an emerging disease that affected humans and equines in many parts of the Americas throughout the 20th century. The etiologic agent is VEE virus (VEEV), a positive-sense RNA virus in the family Togaviridae and genus Alphavirus. The first strain of VEEV was isolated and characterized serologically in 1938. Numerous VEEV strains and closely related alphaviruses have since been classified into 2 epidemiologic groups: enzootic and epizootic strains.
Enzootic strains (subtypes I, varieties D-F, and subtypes II-VI) are regularly isolated in lowland tropical forests in Florida, Mexico, and Central and South America, where they circulate between Culex (Melanoconion) spp. mosquito vectors and small rodents; these strains are generally avirulent for and incapable of amplification in equines. In contrast, epizootic VEEV strains (subtype I, varieties A-B and C), which are responsible for all major outbreaks in humans and equines, use several mosquito vectors and equines, which are exploited as highly efficient amplification hosts. Epizootic viruses cause debilitating disease with high fatality rates in equines. Humans are tangential, spillover hosts in both epidemic and enzootic VEEV cycles and are affected by most strains. A severe febrile illness that can occasionally be life-threatening develops; although human death occurs in <1% of infections with enzootic and epizootic VEEV strains, neurologic sequelae occur in survivors, particularly children. Emerging Infectious Diseases
May 10, 2005

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