Further characterization of bovine hepacivirus: Antibody response, course of infection, and host tropism.
Bovine hepacivirus (BovHepV) is a recently added member to the growing genus Hepacivirus within the family Flaviviridae. Animal hepaciviruses are rarely characterized so far. Apart from norway rat hepacivirus which represents a promising HCV surrogate model, only equine hepaciviruses have been studied to some extent. BovHepV has been initially identified in bovine samples and was shown to establish persistent infections in cattle. However, consequences of those chronic infections, humoral immune response and the possibility of an extended host spectrum have not been explored so far. Therefore, we here investigated (a) the presence of anti-NS3-antibodies and viral RNA in cattle herds in Germany, (b) the course of infection in cattle, and (c) the host tropism including zoonotic potential of bovine hepaciviruses. Our results show that 19.9% of investigated bovine serum samples had antibodies against BovHepV. In 8.2% of investigated samples, viral RNA was detected. Subsequent genetic analysis revealed a novel genetic cluster of BovHepV variants. For 25 selected cattle in a BovHepV positive herd the presence of viral genomic RNA was monitored over one year in two to three months intervals by RT-PCR in order to discriminate acute versus persistent infection. In persistently infected animals, no serum antibodies were detected. Biochemical analyses could not establish a link between BovHepV infection and liver injury. Apart from a single sample of a pig providing a positive reaction in the antibody test, neither BovHepV-specific antibodies nor viral RNA were detected in porcine, equine or human samples implying a strict host specificity of BovHepV.