No Evidence of Mosquito Involvement in the Transmission of Equine Hepacivirus (Flaviviridae) in an Epidemiological Survey of Austrian Horses
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Prevalence studies have demonstrated a global distribution of equine hepacivirus (EqHV), a member of the family Flaviviridae. However, apart from a single case of vertical transmission, natural routes of EqHV transmission remain elusive. Many known flaviviruses are horizontally transmitted between hematophagous arthropods and vertebrate hosts. This study represents the first investigation of potential EqHV transmission by mosquitoes. More than 5000 mosquitoes were collected across Austria and analyzed for EqHV ribonucleic acid (RNA) by reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Concurrently, 386 serum samples from horses in eastern Austria were analyzed for EqHV-specific antibodies by luciferase immunoprecipitation system (LIPS) and for EqHV RNA by RT-qPCR. Additionally, liver-specific biochemistry parameters were compared between EqHV RNA-positive horses and EqHV RNA-negative horses. Phylogenetic analysis was conducted in comparison to previously published sequences from various origins. No EqHV RNA was detected in mosquito pools. Serum samples yielded an EqHV antibody prevalence of 45.9% (177/386) and RNA prevalence of 4.15% (16/386). EqHV RNA-positive horses had significantly higher glutamate dehydrogenase (GLDH) levels (p = 0.013) than control horses. Phylogenetic analysis showed high similarity between nucleotide sequences of EqHV in Austrian horses and EqHV circulating in other regions. Despite frequently detected evidence of EqHV infection in Austrian horses, no viral RNA was found in mosquitoes. It is therefore unlikely that mosquitoes are vectors of this flavivirus.