Increasing awareness for tick-borne encephalitis virus using small ruminants as suitable sentinels : preliminary observations
Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) is one of the most common zoonotic vector-borne infections in Europe. An appropriate awareness is crucial to react quickly and efficiently to protect humans from this pathogen. From winter 2017 until spring 2018 serum samples were collected from 71 small ruminant flocks (3174 animals) in five German federal states. The sera were examined for TBEV antibodies by ELISA and serum neutralization test. In the TBEV risk areas, there was a coincidence in 14 districts between seropositive small ruminants and the occurrence of human TBE cases in 2017. In eight districts, the TBEV infection could not be detected in small ruminants although human cases were reported. In contrast, in five districts, small ruminants tested TBEV seropositive without notified human TBE cases in 2017. A changing pattern of TBEV circulation in the environment was observed by the absence of antibodies in a defined high-risk area. In the non-TBE risk areas, seropositive small ruminants were found in five districts. In two districts with a low human incidence the infection was missed by the small ruminant sentinels. An intra-herd prevalence of 12.5% was determined in a goat flock in the non-TBE risk area in 2017, two years prior the first autochthone human case was reported. All sheep and goats in this flock were examined for TBEV antibodies for three years. Individual follow-up of twelve small ruminants was possible and revealed mostly a short lifespan of TBEV antibodies of less than one year. The probability to identify TBEV seropositive sheep flocks was enhanced in flocks kept for landscape conservation or which were shepherded (p < 0.05). Our preliminary observations clearly demonstrated the successful utilization of small ruminants as sentinel animals for TBEV.