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Researchers determine bluetongue strain, origin in 2016 Cyprus outbreak

10 August 2020

In a new study, published in the journal Viruses, scientists in the Non-Vesicular Reference Laboratory (NVRL) at the BBSRC-funded Pirbright Institute have used genetic analyses and wind modelling to show that the 2016 bluetongue outbreak in Cyprus was caused by bluetongue virus serotype 8 (BTV-8).

The virus most likely crossed over to Cyprus in midges blown from the coastal regions of Syria, Lebanon or Israel.

Bluetongue is a non-contagious disease of ruminants such as sheep, cattle and goats that is spread between animals by Culicoides biting midges. The disease is caused by bluetongue virus (BTV), of which there are at least 29 known serotypes.

In September 2016, suspected cases of bluetongue in sheep were simultaneously reported in three different locations in Cyprus.

Scientists at the European Union Reference Laboratory for Bluetongue (EURL-BT) at The Pirbright Institute confirmed that BTV-8 was present in all samples submitted by the National Reference Laboratory in Nicosia, Cyprus. This was the first time that this strain had caused cases in Cyprus, although BTV-3, -4 and -16 have caused several outbreaks on the island since 1924.

Dr Paulina Rajko-Nenow, a postdoctoral scientist in the Non-Vesicular Reference Laboratory (NVRL) said, “Our data strongly suggests that the strain that caused the outbreak in Cyprus is not directly linked to the one causing the ongoing spread of BTV-8 in Europe but is more likely to have been blown across the Mediterranean Sea from Lebanon or Israel to Larnaca.”

“Combining full genome analysis and atmospheric dispersion models has provided us with data that has been essential for us to pinpoint the outbreak origin. This method will be useful for tracing strains in other outbreaks and highlights that understanding how BTV can spread between countries, including in wind-borne midges, is important for disease detection and prevention,” Dr Rajko-Nenow added.