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Investigations on outbreaks of African horse sickness in the surveillance zone in South Africa

Author(s) : G.J. Venter, J.J.O. Koekemoer & J.T. Paweska

Summary :

Confirmed outbreaks of African horse sickness (AHS) occurred in the surveillance zone of the Western Cape in 1999 and 2004, both of which led to a two-year suspension on the export of horses. Light trap surveys in the outbreak areas showed that known vector competent Culicoides species, notably C. imicola, were abundant and present in numbers equal to those in the traditional AHS endemic areas. Isolations of AHS virus serotypes 1 and 7, equine encephalosis virus, and bluetongue virus from field-collected C. imicola in the surveillance zone demonstrated that this species was highly competent and could transmit viruses belonging to different serogroups of the Orbivirus genus. Molecular identification of recovered virus isolates indicated that at least two incursions of AHS into the surveillance zone had taken place in 2004. The designation of an AHS-free zone in the Western Cape remains controversial since it can be easily compromised, as evidenced by the two recent outbreaks. In light of the results reported in the present study, the policy of maintaining a large population of unvaccinated horses in the surveillance zone should be reconsidered, as it leaves them vulnerable to infection with AHS virus, which is the most pathogenic of all equine viruses.

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