Epidemiological investigations of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus infection in sheep and goats in Balochistan, Pakistan

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a tick-borne zoonotic disease caused by the arbovirus Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV). Livestock serve as a transient reservoir for CCHFV, but do not show clinical signs. In this cross-sectional study, sheep and goats in Balochistan, Pakistan, were examined to determine the CCHFV seroprevalence, spatial distribution of seropositive sheep and goats, and to identify potential risk factors for seropositivity to CCHFV in these animals. To this end, farms and animals were selected by systematic sampling, blood samples from 800 sheep and 800 goats were collected and information regarding farm management and the kept animals were retrieved using a standard questionnaire. Sera were tested for antibodies against CCHFV in two independent ELISA formats and an immunofluorescence assay (IFA) following a hierarchical diagnostic decision tree. By these assays 149 (19%, 95%-CI: 16-21%) out of 800 sheep serum samples and 37 (5%, 95%-CI: 3-6%) out of 800 goat serum samples were positive for CCHFV-specific IgG antibodies. Interestingly, at least 8 (5%, 95%-CI: 2-10%) out of 160 sera pools were from CCHFV viraemic sheep, as sera (in pools of 5) tested positive for CCHFV genome by real-time PCR (RT-qPCR). Risk factor analysis revealed that the open type of housing (OR = 3.76, 95%-CI:1.57-9.56, p-value = 0.003), grazing (OR = 4.18, 95%-CI:1.79-10.37, p-value = 0.001), presence of vegetation in or around the farm (OR = 3.13, 95%-CI: 1.07-10.15, p-value = 0.043), lack of treatment against ticks (OR = 3.31, 95%-CI: 1.16-10.21, p-value = 0.029), absence of rural poultry (OR = 2.93, 95%-CI: 1.41-6.29, p-value = 0.004), animals with age ≥ 2 years (OR = 4.15, 95%-CI: 2.84-6.19, p-value<0.001), animals infested with ticks (OR = 2.35, 95%-CI: 1.59-3.52, p-value<0.001), and sheep species (OR = 4.72, 95%-CI:3.24-6.86, p-value<0.001) represented statistically significant risk factors associated with seropositivity to CCHFV. Taken together this study confirms the circulation of CCHFV in livestock in Balochistan, Pakistan. The identification of risk factors might help to reduce the risk of infection in sheep and goats, which may also mitigate the risk for human infection. An interesting option for reducing the risk of CCHFV infection in small ruminants is keeping also chickens, since they pick ticks that transmit CCHFV.


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