Ecological studies of enzootic Venezuelan equine encephalitis in north-central Venezuela, 1997-1998.

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  • 1 Instituto Nacional de Higiene, Caracas, Venezuela.

From 1997-1998, we investigated the possible continuous circulation of epizootic Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) virus suggested by a 1983 subtype IC interepizootic mosquito isolate made in Panaquire, Miranda State, Venezuela. The study area was originally covered by lowland tropical rainforest but has been converted into cacao plantations. Sentinel hamsters, small mammal trapping, mosquito collections, and human serosurveys were used to detect active or recent virus circulation. Six strains of subtype ID VEE virus were isolated from hamsters that displayed no apparent disease. Four other arboviruses belonging to group A (Togaviridae: Alphavirus), two Bunyamwera group (Bunyaviridae), and three Gamboa group (Bunyaviridae) arboviruses were also isolated from hamsters, as well as 8 unidentified viruses. Venezuelan equine encephalitis-specific antibodies were detected in 5 small mammal species: Proechimys guairae, Marmosa spp., and Didelphis marsupialis. Mosquito collections comprised of 38 different species, including 8 members of the subgenus Culex (Melanoconion), did not yield any virus isolates. Sera from 195 humans, either workers in the cacao plantation or nearby residents, were all negative for VEE virus antibodies. Sequences of 1,677 nucleotides from the P62 gene of 2 virus isolates indicated that they represent a subtype ID lineage that is distinct from all others characterized previously, and are unrelated to epizootic VEE emergence.