Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) antibodies in animal sera – occurrence in goat flocks in Germany, longevity and ability to recall immunological information after more than six years
Background TBE is an important tick-borne viral zoonosis in Europe and some parts of Asia. Humans can become infected by tick bite and in some cases also by consumption of nonpasteurized raw milk and raw milk products from ruminants. Serological investigations of milking flocks can help to assess the risk of TBEV infection for humans. 735 blood samples from 50 goat flocks from four federal states of Germany were tested by TBEV-VNT to assess a potential risk for TBEV infection. There are some gaps in the knowledge about immunity in animals, for example with regard to the longevity of TBEV immunity. Two goats and two sheep were immunized and TBEV antibody titers could be detected for up to 7 years. Furthermore, nothing is known about a possible long-lasting immunological memory that could quickly be reactivated by an additional contact to TBEV. Seven years after the first immunization two goats and two sheep as well as two naïve goats and two sheep were boostered and TBEV antibody titers followed. Results Only one sample in each of the three states was TBEV-antibody positive (VNT), albeit with low titers. However, in Baden-Württemberg seven samples were positive, among them four goats of the same flock. TBEV-antibody positive titers were detected in goats for up to 6 years and 10 months, in sheep for up to 4 years and 7 months. Seven years after immunization a clear immunological recall occurred in response to administration of one dose of vaccine in two goats and two sheep. Conclusion It can be concluded that in the tested flocks the risk of an alimentary TBEV infection was low. However, in one single flock a considerably higher risk must be assumed. Antibody titers in goats and sheep can last very long after contact to TBEV, albeit at a low level. This should be taken into consideration in cases where the risk of an alimentary infection is assessed in a flock by serological investigations. The immunological recall gives rise to the suspicion that the immunological memory after a first contact to TBEV lasts for many years, probably lifelong.