Journal of Hygiene

Research Article

Comparative pathogenicity and antigenic cross-reactivity of Rift Valley fever and other African phleboviruses in sheep

R. Swanepoela1, J. K. Struthersa1, M. J. Erasmusa1, S. P. Shepherda1, G. M. McGillivraya1, A. J. Shepherda1, D. E. Hummitzscha1, B. J. Erasmusa2 and B. J. H. Barnarda2

a1 Department of Virology, University of the Witwatersrand and Special Pathogens Unit, National Institute for Virology Sandringham 2131 Republic of South Africa

a2 Veterinary Research Institute, Onderstepoort 0110, Republic of South Africa


Homologous and heterologous haemagglutination-inhibition (HAI), complement- fixation (CF), immunodiffusion (ID) and mouse neutralization tests were performed with the Lunyo (LUN) and a Zimbabwean strainof Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus, the prototype and a South African strain of Arumowot (AMT) virus and prototype strains of Gordil (GOR), Saint-Floris (SAF) and Gabek Forest (GF) viruses, using immune mouseascitic fluids prepared against these viruses. Reactions of identity occurred in all tests between LUN and the Zimbabwean strains of RVF and between the two strains of AMT virus. Otherwise, cross-reactions occurred between all the phleboviruses in HAI tests, while reactions in CF, ID and neutralization testswere monospecific for virus serotypes, except that weak cross-reaction occurred between GOR and SAF viruses in CF and ID tests.

Four sheep infected subcutaneously with the Zimbabwean strain of RVF virus developed transient fever, viraemia, leucopaenia, relative thrombocytopaenia, haemoconcentration and raised serum enzyme levels, which indicated that the sheep had developed necrotic hepatitis. Disseminated focal necrotic hepatitis was confirmed in a sheep killed for examination on day 4 post-infection. The other three sheep recovered uneventfully after only mild depression and anorexia. Groups of three sheep infected with SAF, GOR, AMT and GF viruses had no demonstrable viraemia or other sign of infection or illness, except that the sheep infected with AMT developed mild fever lasting less than 24 h.

Antibody responses were monitored at intervals over a period of 24 weeks in all sheep by homologous and heterologous HAI, CF and cell culture neutralization (CPENT) tests. Homologous antibody responses were marked in the RVF-infected sheep and their sera cross-reacted strongly in HAI tests with antigens of the other viruses. The sera of the RVF-infectes sheep cross-reactes less marledly in CF and CPENT tests. Homologous antibody responses were poor in all the sheep infected with phlebovirused other than RVF, and the cross-reactivity of their sera RVF antigen or virus was negligible. All sheep were challenged with RVF virus 48 weeks after their initial infection. The sheep which had originally been infected with RVF virus were immune and developed neither fever nor viracmia. All other sheep developed fever, viraemia and antibodies to RVF virus.

It was concluded that the African phleboviruses, other than RVF, are unlikely to cause disease in livestock ot to induce antibodies which could cause confusion in the diagnosis of RVF.

(Received December 03 1985)

(Accepted February 03 1986)