Since initial discovery of equine hepacivirus (EqHV) in 2011, the virus has been detected in horse populations from more than 12 countries, across five continents. EqHV seroprevalence is reported to be as high as 61.8% and EqHV ribonucleic acid (RNA) prevalence to range between 0.9% and 34.1%. Molecular and serological indications of EqHV infection have never been reported in equids on the African continent. Therefore, investigation of EqHV prevalence in South African horses and subsequent viral genetic characterisation would contribute to understanding global epidemiology of this emerging virus.
In a cross-sectional study, serum samples from 454 Thoroughbred foals (aged 58-183 d) were analysed for anti-EqHV non-structural (NS)3-specific antibodies (Abs) with the luciferase immunoprecipitation system (LIPS) and for EqHV RNA by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). Farms of origin (n=26) were situated in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Descriptive analysis was performed to study associations between EqHV infection status, age and gender. Identified EqHV isolates were sequenced, with subsequent phylogenetic analysis of genomic portions located in the NS3-gene.
Abs were detected in 83.7% (380/454) of samples - the highest seroprevalence reported yet in an equine population. The RNA prevalence of 7.9% (36/454) was within the previously reported range. Increasing foal-age was associated with decreasing prevalence of Abs and increasing prevalence of EqHV viraemia. South African EqHV strains didn’t cluster separately to published sequences of EqHV strains.
In conclusion, EqHV is circulating in the South African Thoroughbred population and appears to be more prevalent than in other horse populations worldwide.
University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
Friday, June 15
2:00 PM – 2:15 PM
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