Background: In September, 1994, an outbreak of severe respiratory disease affected 18 horses, their trainer, and a stablehand in Queensland, Australia. Fourteen horses and one human being died. A novel virus was isolated from those affected and named equine morbillivirus (EMV). We report a case of encephalitis caused by this virus.
Findings: A 35-year-old man from Queensland had a brief aseptic meningitic illness in August, 1994, shortly after caring for two horses that died from EMV infection and then assisting at their necropsies. He then suffered severe encephalitis 13 months later, characterised by uncontrolled focal and generalised epileptic activity. Rising titres of neutralising antibodies to EMV in the patient's serum at the time of the second illness suggested an anamnestic response. Distinctive cortical changes were shown on magnetic resonance neuroimaging and histopathological examination of the brain at necropsy. Immunohistochemistry and electronmicroscopy of brain tissue revealed pathology characteristic of the earlier cases of EMV infection. PCR on cerebrospinal fluid taken during the second illness, brain tissue, and serum retained from the original illness resulted in an amplified product identical to that previously described from EMV.
Interpretation: The results of serology, PCR, electronmicroscopy, and immunohistochemistry strongly suggest that EMV was the cause of this patient's encephalitis, and that exposure to the virus occurred 3 months before the fatal illness.