Rustrela Virus-Associated Encephalomyelitis (‘Staggering Disease’) in Cats from Eastern Austria, 1994–2016
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Abstract: Clinical cases of ‘staggering disease’, a nonsuppurative encephalomyelitis associated with gait abnormalities in cats, have been documented for decades in Sweden. In Austria, an increased incidence was observed in the 1990s. Only recently, rustrela virus (RusV) was identified as the causative agent of this clinicopathologic disease entity. In this retrospective study, we analyzed a total of 23 brain and spinal cord samples from Austrian cats with the pathohistological diagnosis of nonsuppurative encephalomyelitis and clinical signs consistent with staggering disease from 1994 to 2016 using reverse transcription real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) and in situ hybridization. We were able to detect RusV nucleic acids in seven of the examined samples. Borna disease virus 1 (BoDV-1) could be excluded in all cases via immunohistochemistry and RT-qPCR. This study confirms that RusV has been a relevant etiological agent of nonsuppurative encephalomyelitis of cats in a geographically and temporally limited disease cluster in Austria, mainly in the 1990s. The geographic distribution of the positive samples in this study is consistent with earlier reports on ‘staggering disease’ in Austria. Further studies are necessary to confirm the reservoir host of ‘staggering disease’ in Austria, as well as investigations on the disappearance of this disease and its possible zoonotic potential.