West Nile virus lineage 2 as a cause of zoonotic neurological disease in humans and horses in southern Africa

Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2010 Oct;10(7):659-64. doi: 10.1089/vbz.2009.0230.


West Nile virus (WNV) is widely distributed in South Africa, but since a few cases of neurological disease have been reported from this region, endemic lineage 2 strains were postulated to be of low virulence. Several cases of nonfatal encephalitis in humans as well as fatal cases in a foal, dog, and ostrich chicks have, however, been associated with lineage 2 WNV in South Africa. The pathogenesis of lineage 2 WNV strains was investigated using mouse neuroinvasive experiments, gene expression experiments, and genome sequence comparisons which indicated that lineage 2 strains that are highly pathogenic exist. To determine whether cases of WNV were being missed in South Africa, horses with fever and neurological disease were investigated. Several cases of WNV were identified, all associated with severe neurological disease, 85% of which had to be euthanized or died. All cases positive by RT-PCR were shown to belong to lineage 2 WNV by DNA sequencing and phylogenetic analysis. Two cases of occupational infection were investigated, including a case of zoonotic transmission to a veterinarian who performed an autopsy on one of the horses as well as a laboratory infection after a needle stick injury with a neuroinvasive lineage 2 strain. Both resulted in neurological disease. Cytokine expression was investigated in the second case to assess the immunopathogenesis of WNV. Collectively, these studies suggest that lineage 2 WNV may be significantly under estimated as a cause of neurological disease in South Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Horse Diseases / epidemiology
  • Horse Diseases / virology*
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Needlestick Injuries
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Virulence
  • West Nile Fever / epidemiology
  • West Nile Fever / veterinary*
  • West Nile Fever / virology
  • West Nile virus / genetics*
  • West Nile virus / pathogenicity
  • Zoonoses