Rift Valley Fever Virus: a Seroepidemiologic Study of Small Terrestrial Vertebrates in South Africa

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  • Department of Medical Microbiology (Virology Division), University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

Epizootics of Rift Valley fever (RVF) are often associated with periods of heavy rainfall, which are favorable for mosquito vectors. However, in seasons with normal or low rainfall, enzootic circulation occurs, suggesting the existence of a natural host that can act as a cryptic carrier during interepizootic periods. To confirm the role of heavy rainfall in epizootic circulation, and to identify a possible natural host of RVF virus, serum samples from small terrestrial mammals in the Free State and Northern Cape regions of South Africa were collected before and after the 1988 floods. These areas are known to support epizootic circulation of RVF virus. The samples were tested for the presence of RVF virus-specific IgG using an ELISA and positive sera were confirmed by a neutralization test. Forty-seven (15%) of 312 Aethomys namaquensis (Namaqua rock rat) had antibodies to RVF virus. Of these positive sera, nine (6%) of 141 were collected before the floods of 1988 and 38 (22%) of 171 were collected afterwards (P = 0.001). Naive A. namaquensis were inoculated with RVF virus and developed a viremia, but no clinical symptoms, suggesting that they can act as temporary asymptomatic carriers of the virus. These results suggest a role for A. namaquensis as a cryptic carrier for RVF virus during interepizootic periods and support the results of other studies suggesting an amplifying role for heavy rainfall in the circulation of RVF virus.