Powassan Virus and Other Arthropod-Borne Viruses in Wildlife and Ticks in Ontario, Canada

Kathryn Smith Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;
Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;

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Paul T. Oesterle Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;
Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;

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Claire M. Jardine Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;
Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;

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Antonia Dibernardo National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada, Winnipeg, Canada;

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Chris Huynh National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada, Winnipeg, Canada;

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Robbin Lindsay National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada, Winnipeg, Canada;

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David L. Pearl Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;

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Angela M. Bosco-Lauth Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Nicole M. Nemeth Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;
Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;

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Powassan virus (POWV) is a tick-borne zoonosis maintained in natural enzootic cycles between ixodid ticks and wild mammals. Reported human cases have increased in recent years; these infections can be fatal or lead to long-term neurologic sequelae. However, both the geographic distribution and the role of common, potential mammalian hosts in POWV transmission are poorly understood, creating challenges to public health surveillance. We looked for evidence of POWV infection among candidate wildlife host species and ticks collected from mammals and birds in southern Ontario. Tissues (including blood) and ticks from trapped wild mammals were collected in the summers of 2015 and 2016. Ticks removed from dogs in 2015–2016 and wildlife diagnostic cases from 2011 to 2013 were also included. Tissue and tick (Ixodes spp.) homogenates were tested for POWV by reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). In addition, sera from wild mammals were tested for antibodies to POWV, West Nile virus (WNV), and heartland virus (HRTV) by plaque reduction neutralization test. All 724 tissue samples were negative for POWV by RT-PCR. One of 53 pools of Ixodes cookei (among 98 total tick pools) was RT-PCR positive for deer tick virus (POWV) lineage. Antibodies to POWV and WNV were detected in 0.4% of 265 and 6.1% of 264 samples, respectively, and all of 219 serum samples tested negative for anti-HRTV antibodies. These results reveal low POWV detection rates in southern Ontario, while highlighting the challenges and need for continued efforts into understanding POWV epidemiology and targeted surveillance strategies.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Nicole M. Nemeth, Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, University of Georgia, 589 D.W. Brooks Dr., Athens, GA 30602. E-mail: nmnemeth@uga.edu

Financial support: This research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada with additional support from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Authors’ addresses: Kathryn Smith and Paul T. Oesterle, Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, E-mails: ksmith19@uoguelph.ca and oesterle@uoguelph.ca. Claire M. Jardine, Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada and Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, E-mail: cjardi01@uoguelph.ca. Antonia Dibernardo, Chris Huynh, and L. Robbin Lindsay, National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, E-mails: antonia.dibernardo@canada.ca, chris.huynh@canada.ca, and robbin.lindsay@canada.ca. David L. Pearl, Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, E-mail: dpearl@uoguelph.ca. Angela M. Bosco-Lauth, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, E-mail: mopargal@rams.colostate.edu. Nicole M. Nemeth, Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, E-mail: nmnemeth@uga.edu.

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