The sandfly-borne Toscana phlebovirus (TOSV), a close relative of the sandfly fever Sicilian phlebovirus (SFSV), is one of the most common causes of acute meningitis or meningoencephalitis in humans in the Mediterranean Basin. However, most of human phlebovirus infections in endemic areas either are asymptomatic or cause mild influenza-like illness. To date, a vertebrate reservoir for sandfly-borne phleboviruses has not been identified. Dogs are a prime target for blood-feeding phlebotomines and are the primary reservoir of human sandfly-borne Leishmania infantum. However, there are no definitive studies to assess whether dogs play a significant role as a reservoir host for human phlebovirus survival in the environment. Here, we have evaluated the susceptibility of domestic dogs to infection by TOSV and SFSV following the direct inoculation of the infectious virus. After experimental infection, the presence of viral RNA was investigated in plasma, urine, saliva, conjunctiva, faeces, semen, and bone marrow samples from 0 to 91 days postinoculation (dpi), as well as in plasma, saliva, and tears samples at 760 dpi. None of the challenged dogs developed clinical signs of infection with either TOSV or SFSV. SFSV RNA was never detected. TOSV RNA was not in any of the specimen types, except for plasma samples that showed low viral loads, although irregularly. None of the dogs developed detectable neutralizing antibodies after a single challenge dose of either TOSV or SFSV. However, a second challenge dose of virus given 56 days later elicited neutralizing antibodies, implying that the first inoculation of virus primed the animals for an anamnestic response following the second challenge. These results demonstrated that healthy domestic dogs are not highly susceptible to infection by TOSV or SFSV and do not develop significant viremia or excrete virus following infection. Consequently, dogs are unlikely natural reservoir hosts of infection and do not appear to play a significant role in phlebovirus transmission cycles.
Keywords: Phenuiviridae; Phlebotomus; bunyavirales; experimental infection; host; immunity; leishmaniasis; meningitis; natural cycle; neutralizing antibodies; reservoir; sandfly.