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News Article

Persistently infected African buffalo not a likely cause of new FMD outbreaks, researchers say

Study finds carrier buffalo are unlikely to be a major source of new virus variants

Researchers at The Pirbright Institute have shown that African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) persistently infected with Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) are unlikely to be the source of new outbreaks in other buffalo and cattle.

African buffalo do not usually present any clinical signs of infection and can carry FMDV for years and can act as an important reservoir for the disease. Previously it was thought that buffalo with long term infections could generate new genetic variations of FMDV, enabling outbreaks in neighbouring buffalo and cattle herds.

Dr Bryan Charleston, Director of The Pirbright Institute and Head of the Viral Immunology Group, said “Genetic changes during persistent infection are important to analyse as they allow us to understand how the virus alters over the course of infection. If mutations occur that alter the virus significantly enough for it to evade the buffalo immune system, this could give rise to virus variants that have the potential to generate new outbreaks.”

New variants of FMDV are more likely to occur due to mutation in the early acute phase of infection when viral replication levels are at their highest. To assess if new variants could arise during persistent infection scientists analysed genomes of FMDV isolated from multiple tissues of buffalo up to 400 days after infection.

The results, published in the Journal of Virology, show that only a small number of mutations had accumulated over this time period. Most of these changes are known as ‘silent mutations’, meaning that they made no change to the structure or function of the virus. The findings show that the virus does not mutate sufficiently enough during persistent infection to evade the immune response and become a major source of new outbreaks.

Article: Cortey, M., Ferretti, L., Pérez-Martín, E., Zhang, F., de Klerk-Lorist, L.M., Scott, K., Freimanis, G., Seago, J., Ribeca, P., van Schalkwyk, L., Juleff, N.D., Maree, F.F., Charleston, B. (2019). Persistent infection of African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) with Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus: limited viral evolution and no evidence of antibody neutralization escape. Journal of Virology, online 15 May 2019, doi: 10.1128/JVI.00563-19

Article details

  • Date
  • 31 May 2019
  • Source
  • The Pirbright Institute
  • Subject(s)
  • Food Animals