Rift Valley Fever Virus Infection Causes Acute Encephalitis in the Ferret

mSphere. 2020 Oct 28;5(5):e00798-20. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00798-20.


Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) is a pathogen of both humans and livestock in Africa and the Middle East. Severe human disease is associated with hepatitis and/or encephalitis. Current pathogenesis studies rely on rodents and nonhuman primates, which have advantages and disadvantages. We evaluated disease progression in Mustela putorius furo (the ferret) following intradermal (i.d.) or intranasal (i.n.) infection. Infected ferrets developed hyperpyrexia, weight loss, lymphopenia, and hypoalbuminemia. Three of four ferrets inoculated intranasally with RVFV developed central nervous system (CNS) disease that manifested as seizure, ataxia, and/or hind limb weakness at 8 to 11 days postinfection (dpi). Animals with clinical CNS disease had transient viral RNAemia, high viral RNA loads in the brain, and histopathological evidence of encephalitis. The ferret model will facilitate our understanding of how RVFV accesses the CNS and has utility for the evaluation of vaccines and/or therapeutics in preventing RVFV CNS disease.IMPORTANCE Animal models of viral disease are very important for understanding how viruses make people sick and for testing out drugs and vaccines to see if they can prevent disease. In this study, we identify the ferret as a model of encephalitis caused by Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV). This novel model will allow researchers to evaluate ways to prevent RVFV encephalitis.

Keywords: Rift Valley fever virus; animal model; encephalitis; ferret; pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / virology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Encephalitis, Viral / virology*
  • Ferrets / virology*
  • Male
  • Rift Valley Fever / complications
  • Rift Valley Fever / physiopathology*
  • Rift Valley fever virus