Schmallenberg Virus: A Novel Virus of Veterinary Importance
In late 2011, unspecific clinical symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, and decreased milk production were observed in dairy cattle in the Dutch/German border region. After exclusion of classical endemic and emerging viruses by targeted diagnostic systems, blood samples from acutely diseased cows were subjected to metagenomics analysis. An insect-transmitted orthobunyavirus of the Simbu serogroup was identified as the causative agent and named Schmallenberg virus (SBV). It was one of the first detections of the introduction of a novel virus of veterinary importance to Europe using the new technology of next-generation sequencing. The virus was subsequently isolated from identical samples as used for metagenomics analysis in insect and mammalian cell lines and disease symptoms were reproduced in calves experimentally infected with both, this culture-grown virus and blood samples of diseased cattle. Since its emergence, SBV spread very rapidly throughout the European ruminant population causing mild unspecific disease in adult animals, but also premature birth or stillbirth and severe fetal malformation when naive dams were infected during a critical phase of gestation. In the following years, SBV recirculated regularly to a larger extend; in the 2014 and 2016 vector seasons the virus was again repeatedly detected in the blood of adult ruminants, and in the following winter and spring months, a number of malformed calves and lambs was born. The genome of viruses present in viremic adult animals showed a very high sequence stability; in sequences generated between 2012 and 2016, only a few amino acid substitutions in comparison to the initial SBV isolate could be detected. In contrast, a high sequence variability was identified in the aminoterminal part of the glycoprotein Gc-encoding region of viruses present in the brain of malformed newborns. This mutation hotspot is independent of the region or host species from which the samples originated and is potentially involved in immune evasion mechanisms.