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1.  Geographic Distribution of MERS Coronavirus among Dromedary Camels, Africa 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2014;20(8):1370-1374.
We found serologic evidence for the circulation of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus among dromedary camels in Nigeria, Tunisia, and Ethiopia. Circulation of the virus among dromedaries across broad areas of Africa may indicate that this disease is currently underdiagnosed in humans outside the Arabian Peninsula.
PMCID: PMC4111168  PMID: 25062254
Middle East respiratory syndrome; MERS; Coronaviridae; beta-coronavirus; zoonoses; pneumonia; coronavirus infections; disease reservoirs; camels; Africa; Arabian Peninsula; viruses
2.  Isolation of MERS Coronavirus from a Dromedary Camel, Qatar, 2014 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2014;20(8):1339-1342.
We obtained the full genome of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) from a camel in Qatar. This virus is highly similar to the human England/Qatar 1 virus isolated in 2012. The MERS-CoV from the camel efficiently replicated in human cells, providing further evidence for the zoonotic potential of MERS-CoV from camels.
PMCID: PMC4111206  PMID: 25075761
coronavirus; MERS; camel; viruses; Qatar
3.  Antibodies against MERS Coronavirus in Dromedary Camels, United Arab Emirates, 2003 and 2013 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2014;20(4):552-559.
Camels were infected with this virus >10 years before the first human cases.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has caused an ongoing outbreak of severe acute respiratory tract infection in humans in the Arabian Peninsula since 2012. Dromedary camels have been implicated as possible viral reservoirs. We used serologic assays to analyze 651 dromedary camel serum samples from the United Arab Emirates; 151 of 651 samples were obtained in 2003, well before onset of the current epidemic, and 500 serum samples were obtained in 2013. Recombinant spike protein–specific immunofluorescence and virus neutralization tests enabled clear discrimination between MERS-CoV and bovine CoV infections. Most (632/651, 97.1%) camels had antibodies against MERS-CoV. This result included all 151 serum samples obtained in 2003. Most (389/651, 59.8%) serum samples had MERS-CoV–neutralizing antibody titers >1,280. Dromedary camels from the United Arab Emirates were infected at high rates with MERS-CoV or a closely related, probably conspecific, virus long before the first human MERS cases.
PMCID: PMC3966379  PMID: 24655412
Middle East respiratory syndrome; MERS; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus; MERS-CoV; viruses; coronavirus; dromedary camels; camels; antibodies; serologic analysis; United Arab Emirates
4.  Evidence for Novel Hepaciviruses in Rodents 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(6):e1003438.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is among the most relevant causes of liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Research is complicated by a lack of accessible small animal models. The systematic investigation of viruses of small mammals could guide efforts to establish such models, while providing insight into viral evolutionary biology. We have assembled the so-far largest collection of small-mammal samples from around the world, qualified to be screened for bloodborne viruses, including sera and organs from 4,770 rodents (41 species); and sera from 2,939 bats (51 species). Three highly divergent rodent hepacivirus clades were detected in 27 (1.8%) of 1,465 European bank voles (Myodes glareolus) and 10 (1.9%) of 518 South African four-striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio). Bats showed anti-HCV immunoblot reactivities but no virus detection, although the genetic relatedness suggested by the serologic results should have enabled RNA detection using the broadly reactive PCR assays developed for this study. 210 horses and 858 cats and dogs were tested, yielding further horse-associated hepaciviruses but none in dogs or cats. The rodent viruses were equidistant to HCV, exceeding by far the diversity of HCV and the canine/equine hepaciviruses taken together. Five full genomes were sequenced, representing all viral lineages. Salient genome features and distance criteria supported classification of all viruses as hepaciviruses. Quantitative RT-PCR, RNA in-situ hybridisation, and histopathology suggested hepatic tropism with liver inflammation resembling hepatitis C. Recombinant serology for two distinct hepacivirus lineages in 97 bank voles identified seroprevalence rates of 8.3 and 12.4%, respectively. Antibodies in bank vole sera neither cross-reacted with HCV, nor the heterologous bank vole hepacivirus. Co-occurrence of RNA and antibodies was found in 3 of 57 PCR-positive bank vole sera (5.3%). Our data enable new hypotheses regarding HCV evolution and encourage efforts to develop rodent surrogate models for HCV.
Author Summary
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is one of the most relevant causes of liver disease and cancer in humans. The lack of a small animal models represents an important hurdle on our way to understanding, treating, and preventing hepatitis C. The investigation of small mammals could identify virus infections similar to hepatitis C in animals that can be kept in laboratories, such as rodents, and can also yield insights into the evolution of those ancestral virus lineages out of which HCV developed. Here, we investigated a worldwide sample of 4,770 rodents, 2,939 bats, 210 horses and 858 cats and dogs for HCV-related viruses. New viruses were discovered in European bank voles (Myodes glareolus) and South African four-striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio). The disease in bank voles was studied in more detail, suggesting that infection of the liver occurs with similar symptoms to those caused by HCV in humans. These rodents might thus enable the development of new laboratory models of hepatitis C. Moreover, the phylogenetic history of those viruses provides fascinating new ideas regarding the evolution of HCV ancestors.
PMCID: PMC3688547  PMID: 23818848
5.  Human Betacoronavirus 2c EMC/2012–related Viruses in Bats, Ghana and Europe 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2013;19(3):456-459.
We screened fecal specimens of 4,758 bats from Ghana and 272 bats from 4 European countries for betacoronaviruses. Viruses related to the novel human betacoronavirus EMC/2012 were detected in 46 (24.9%) of 185 Nycteris bats and 40 (14.7%) of 272 Pipistrellus bats. Their genetic relatedness indicated EMC/2012 originated from bats.
PMCID: PMC3647674  PMID: 23622767
Africa; Europe; Ghana; coronavirus; bats; human betacoronavirus; CoV-EMC; viruses
6.  Experimental Inoculation of Male Rats with Coxiella burnetii: Successful Infection but No Transmission to Cage Mates 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(16):5661-5665.
Beginning in 2007, the largest human Q fever outbreak ever described occurred in the Netherlands. Dairy goats from intensive farms were identified as the source, amplifying Coxiella burnetii during gestation and shedding large quantities during abortions. It has been postulated that wild rodents are reservoir hosts from which C. burnetii can be transmitted to domestic animals and humans. However, little is known about the infection dynamics of C. burnetii in wild rodents. The aim of this study was to investigate whether brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) can be experimentally infected with C. burnetii and whether transmission to a cage mates occurs. Fourteen male brown rats (wild type) were intratracheally or intranasally inoculated with a Dutch C. burnetii isolate obtained from a goat. At 3 days postinoculation, a contact rat was placed with each inoculated rat. The pairs were monitored using blood samples and rectal and throat swabs for 8 weeks, and after euthanasia the spleens were collected. Rats became infected by both inoculation routes, and detection of C. burnetii DNA in swabs suggests that excretion occurred. However, based on the negative spleens in PCR and the lack of seroconversion, none of the contact animals was considered infected; thus, no transmission was observed. The reproduction ratio R0 was estimated to be 0 (95% confidence interval = 0 to 0.6), indicating that it is unlikely that rats act as reservoir host of C. burnetii through sustained transmission between male rats. Future research should focus on other transmission routes, such as vertical transmission or bacterial shedding during parturition.
PMCID: PMC3406142  PMID: 22685149
7.  Yersinia pestis Plasminogen Activator Gene Homolog in Rat Tissues 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2013;19(2):342-344.
PMCID: PMC3559043  PMID: 23347636
Yersinia pestis; bacteria; plasmimogen activator; false positive value; pla; rats; rodents; gene homolog; gene homologue; zoonoses; plague; antibacterial; antimicrobial; Enterobacteriaceae
8.  Lack of Evidence for Zoonotic Transmission of Schmallenberg Virus 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2012;18(11):1746-1754.
The risk to public health is absent or extremely low.
The emergence of Schmallenberg virus (SBV), a novel orthobunyavirus, in ruminants in Europe triggered a joint veterinary and public health response to address the possible consequences to human health. Use of a risk profiling algorithm enabled the conclusion that the risk for zoonotic transmission of SBV could not be excluded completely. Self-reported health problems were monitored, and a serologic study was initiated among persons living and/or working on SBV-affected farms. In the study set-up, we addressed the vector and direct transmission routes for putative zoonotic transfer. In total, 69 sheep farms, 4 goat farms, and 50 cattle farms were included. No evidence for SBV-neutralizing antibodies was found in serum of 301 participants. The lack of evidence for zoonotic transmission from either syndromic illness monitoring or serologic testing of presumably highly exposed persons suggests that the public health risk for SBV, given the current situation, is absent or extremely low.
PMCID: PMC3559138  PMID: 23092696
Bunyaviridae; emerging infection; arbovirus; Schmallenberg virus; zoonoses; public health; transmission; arthropod-borne viruses; the Netherlands; Europe
9.  Molecular typing of Coxiella burnetii from animal and environmental matrices during Q fever epidemics in the Netherlands 
The bacterium Coxiella burnetii has caused unprecedented outbreaks of Q fever in the Netherlands between 2007 and 2010. Since 2007, over 4000 human cases have been reported, with 2354 cases in 2009 alone. Dairy goat farms were identified as most probable sources for emerging clusters of human Q fever cases in their vicinity. However, identifying individual farms as primary source for specific clusters of human cases remains a challenge, partly due to limited knowledge of the different C. burnetii strains circulating in livestock, the environment and humans.
We used a multiplex multi-locus variable number of tandem repeats analysis (MLVA) assay to investigate the genotypic diversity of C. burnetii in different types of samples that were collected nationwide during the Dutch Q fever outbreaks between 2007 and 2010. Typing was performed on C. burnetii positive samples obtained from several independent studies investigating C. burnetii presence in animals and the environment. Six different genotypes were identified on 45 farm locations, based on sequence-confirmed estimates of repeat numbers of six MLVA markers. MLVA genotype A was observed on 38 of the 45 selected farm locations in animals and in environmental samples.
Sequence confirmation of the numbers of tandem repeats within each locus and consensus about repeat identification is essential for accurate MLVA typing of C. burnetii. MLVA genotype A is the most common genotype in animal samples obtained from goat, sheep, and rats, as well as in environmental samples such as (aerosolized) dust, which is considered to be the major transmission route from animals via the environment to humans. The finding of a single dominant MLVA genotype in patients, the environment, and livestock complicates accurate source-finding. Pinpointing individual sources in the Netherlands requires discrimination of genotypes at a higher resolution than attained by using MLVA, as it is likely that the dominant C. burnetii MLVA type will be detected on several farms and in different patients in a particular area of interest.
PMCID: PMC3514391  PMID: 22988998
Coxiella burnetii; Q fever; Molecular typing; MLVA; Environment; Goat; Sheep
10.  Prevalence of Neoehrlichia mikurensis in ticks and rodents from North-west Europe 
Parasites & Vectors  2012;5:74.
Neoehrlichia mikurensis s an emerging and vector-borne zoonosis: The first human disease cases were reported in 2010. Limited information is available about the prevalence and distribution of Neoehrlichia mikurensis in Europe, its natural life cycle and reservoir hosts. An Ehrlichia-like schotti variant has been described in questing Ixodes ricinus ticks, which could be identical to Neoehrlichia mikurensis.
Three genetic markers, 16S rDNA, gltA and GroEL, of Ehrlichia schotti-positive tick lysates were amplified, sequenced and compared to sequences from Neoehrlichia mikurensis. Based on these DNA sequences, a multiplex real-time PCR was developed to specifically detect Neoehrlichia mikurensis in combination with Anaplasma phagocytophilum in tick lysates. Various tick species from different life-stages, particularly Ixodes ricinus nymphs, were collected from the vegetation or wildlife. Tick lysates and DNA derived from organs of wild rodents were tested by PCR-based methods for the presence of Neoehrlichia mikurensis. Prevalence of Neoehrlichia mikurensis was calculated together with confidence intervals using Fisher's exact test.
The three genetic markers of Ehrlichia schotti-positive field isolates were similar or identical to Neoehrlichia mikurensis. Neoehrlichia mikurensis was found to be ubiquitously spread in the Netherlands and Belgium, but was not detected in the 401 tick samples from the UK. Neoehrlichia mikurensis was found in nymphs and adult Ixodes ricinus ticks, but neither in their larvae, nor in any other tick species tested. Neoehrlichia mikurensis was detected in diverse organs of some rodent species. Engorging ticks from red deer, European mouflon, wild boar and sheep were found positive for Neoehrlichia mikurensis.
Ehrlichia schotti is similar, if not identical, to Neoehrlichia mikurensis. Neoehrlichia mikurensis is present in questing Ixodes ricinus ticks throughout the Netherlands and Belgium. We propose that Ixodes ricinus can transstadially, but not transovarially, transmit this microorganism, and that different rodent species may act as reservoir hosts. These data further imply that wildlife and humans are frequently exposed to Neoehrlichia mikurensis-infected ticks through tick bites. Future studies should aim to investigate to what extent Neoehrlichia mikurensis poses a risk to public health.
PMCID: PMC3395572  PMID: 22515314
Vector-borne disease; Emerging zoonoses; Candidatus N. mikurensis; I. ricinus; Anaplasma phagocytophylum
11.  Towards an integrated approach in surveillance of vector-borne diseases in Europe 
Parasites & Vectors  2011;4:192.
Vector borne disease (VBD) emergence is a complex and dynamic process. Interactions between multiple disciplines and responsible health and environmental authorities are often needed for an effective early warning, surveillance and control of vectors and the diseases they transmit. To fully appreciate this complexity, integrated knowledge about the human and the vector population is desirable. In the current paper, important parameters and terms of both public health and medical entomology are defined in order to establish a common language that facilitates collaboration between the two disciplines. Special focus is put on the different VBD contexts with respect to the current presence or absence of the disease, the pathogen and the vector in a given location. Depending on the context, whether a VBD is endemic or not, surveillance activities are required to assess disease burden or threat, respectively. Following a decision for action, surveillance activities continue to assess trends.
PMCID: PMC3199249  PMID: 21967706
Vector borne disease; surveillance; public health; ECDC
12.  Ixodes ricinus ticks are reservoir hosts for Rickettsia helvetica and potentially carry flea-borne Rickettsia species 
Parasites & Vectors  2009;2:41.
Hard ticks have been identified as important vectors of rickettsiae causing the spotted fever syndrome. Tick-borne rickettsiae are considered to be emerging, but only limited data are available about their presence in Western Europe, their natural life cycle and their reservoir hosts. Ixodes ricinus, the most prevalent tick species, were collected and tested from different vegetation types and from potential reservoir hosts. In one biotope area, the annual and seasonal variability of rickettsiae infections of the different tick stages were determined for 9 years.
The DNA of the human pathogen R. conorii as well as R. helvetica, R. sp. IRS and R. bellii-like were found. Unexpectedly, the DNA of the highly pathogenic R. typhi and R. prowazekii and 4 other uncharacterized Rickettsia spp. related to the typhus group were also detected in I. ricinus. The presence of R. helvetica in fleas isolated from small rodents supported our hypothesis that cross-infection can occur under natural conditions, since R. typhi/prowazekii and R. helvetica as well as their vectors share rodents as reservoir hosts. In one biotope, the infection rate with R. helvetica was ~66% for 9 years, and was comparable between larvae, nymphs, and adults. Larvae caught by flagging generally have not yet taken a blood meal from a vertebrate host. The simplest explanation for the comparable prevalence of R. helvetica between the defined tick stages is, that R. helvetica is vertically transmitted through the next generation with high efficiency. The DNA of R. helvetica was also present in whole blood from mice, deer and wild boar.
Besides R. helvetica, unexpected rickettsiae are found in I. ricinus ticks. We propose that I. ricinus is a major reservoir host for R. helvetica, and that vertebrate hosts play important roles in the further geographical dispersion of rickettsiae.
PMCID: PMC2743653  PMID: 19732416
13.  The course of hepatitis E virus infection in pigs after contact-infection and intravenous inoculation 
Worldwide, hepatitis E virus (HEV) genotype 3 is observed in pigs and transmission to humans is implied. To be able to estimate public health risks from e.g. contact with pigs or consumption of pork products, the transmission routes and dynamics of infection should be identified. Hence, the course of HEV-infection in naturally infected pigs should be studied.
To resemble natural transmission, 24 HEV-susceptible pigs were infected either by one-to-one exposure to intravenously inoculated pigs (C1-pigs; n = 10), by one-to-one exposure to contact-infected pigs (C2-pigs: n = 7; C3-pigs: n = 5) or due to an unknown non-intravenous infection route (one C2-pig and one C3-pig). The course of HEV-infection for contact-infected pigs was characterized by: faecal HEV RNA excretion that started at day 7 (95% confidence interval: 5–10) postexposure and lasted 23 (19–28) days; viremia that started after 13 (8–17) days of faecal HEV RNA excretion and lasted 11 (8–13) days; antibody development that was detected after 13 (10–16) days of faecal HEV RNA excretion. The time until onset of faecal HEV RNA excretion and onset of viremia was significantly shorter for iv-pigs compared to contact-infected pigs, whereas the duration of faecal HEV RNA excretion was significantly longer. At 28 days postinfection HEV RNA was detected less frequently in organs of contact-infected pigs compared to iv-pigs. For contact-infected pigs, HEV RNA was detected in 20 of 39 muscle samples that were proxies for pork at retail and in 4 of 7 urine samples.
The course of infection differed between infection routes, suggesting that contact-infection could be a better model for natural transmission than iv inoculation. Urine and meat were identified as possible HEV-sources for pig-to-pig and pig-to-human HEV transmission.
PMCID: PMC2647918  PMID: 19193209
14.  Bats host major mammalian paramyxoviruses 
Nature Communications  2012;3:796-.
The large virus family Paramyxoviridae includes some of the most significant human and livestock viruses, such as measles-, distemper-, mumps-, parainfluenza-, Newcastle disease-, respiratory syncytial virus and metapneumoviruses. Here we identify an estimated 66 new paramyxoviruses in a worldwide sample of 119 bat and rodent species (9,278 individuals). Major discoveries include evidence of an origin of Hendra- and Nipah virus in Africa, identification of a bat virus conspecific with the human mumps virus, detection of close relatives of respiratory syncytial virus, mouse pneumonia- and canine distemper virus in bats, as well as direct evidence of Sendai virus in rodents. Phylogenetic reconstruction of host associations suggests a predominance of host switches from bats to other mammals and birds. Hypothesis tests in a maximum likelihood framework permit the phylogenetic placement of bats as tentative hosts at ancestral nodes to both the major Paramyxoviridae subfamilies (Paramyxovirinae and Pneumovirinae). Future attempts to predict the emergence of novel paramyxoviruses in humans and livestock will have to rely fundamentally on these data.
The large virus family, Paramyxoviridae, includes several human and livestock viruses. This study, testing 119 bat and rodent species distributed globally, identifies novel putative paramyxovirus species, providing data with potential uses in predictions of the emergence of novel paramyxoviruses in humans and livestock.
PMCID: PMC3343228  PMID: 22531181

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