Equine herpesvirus-1 myeloencephalopathy, an emerging threat of working equids in Ethiopia.
Although equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM) is a sporadic and relatively uncommon manifestation of equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1), it has the potential for causing devastating outbreaks in horses. Up till now, there were no reported EHM outbreaks in donkeys and mules. This study describes the isolation and molecular characterization of EHV-1 from clinically EHM-affected horses (n=6), mules (n=3) and donkeys (n=82) in Ethiopia during outbreaks from May 2011 to December 2013. The incidence of EHM cases was higher from April to mid-June. EHM in donkeys was more severe and death without clinical signs of paralysis, and recumbency was frequently observed. The main age of affected equines ranged from 7 to 10 years (n=51; 56.0%), and females (n=58; 63.7%) were more affected than males. The incidence of neuropathogenic (D752) and non-neuropathogenic (N752) variants of EHV-1 from EHM-affected equines in Ethiopia was assessed by sequencing the DNA polymerase gene (ORF30) of the EHV-1 isolates. The results indicated that from the total of 91 clinically affected equines, 90 (98.9%) of them had an ORF30 D752 genotype. An ORF30 N752 variant was only found in one donkey. Analysis of ORF68 as grouping marker for geographical differences showed that the Ethiopian EHV-1 isolates belong to geographical group 4. Due to the fatal nature of EHV-1 in donkeys, it would be interesting to examine the pathogenesis of EHM in this species. At present, there is no vaccine available in Ethiopia, and therefore, outbreaks of EHV-1 should be controlled by proper management adaptations. In addition, it is important to test the efficacy of the commercial vaccines not only in horses, but also in donkeys and mules.