Zoonotic spillover infections with Borna disease virus 1 leading to fatal human encephalitis, 1999–2019: an epidemiological investigation
Background In 2018–19, Borna disease virus 1 (BoDV-1), the causative agent of Borna disease in horses, sheep, and other domestic mammals, was reported in five human patients with severe to fatal encephalitis in Germany. However, information on case frequencies, clinical courses, and detailed epidemiological analyses are still lacking. We report the occurrence of BoDV-1-associated encephalitis in cases submitted to the Institute of Clinical Microbiology and Hygiene, Regensburg University Hospital, Regensburg, Germany, and provide a detailed description of newly identified cases of BoDV-1-induced encephalitis. Methods All brain tissues from 56 encephalitis cases from Bavaria, Germany, of putative viral origin (1999–2019), which had been submitted for virological testing upon request of the attending clinician and stored for stepwise diagnostic procedure, were systematically screened for BoDV-1 RNA. Two additional BoDV-1-positive cases were contributed by other diagnostic centres. Positive results were confirmed by deep sequencing, antigen detection, and determination of BoDV-1-reactive antibodies in serum and cerebrospinal fluid. Clinical and epidemiological data from infected patients were collected and analysed. Findings BoDV-1 RNA and bornavirus-reactive antibodies were detected in eight newly analysed encephalitis cases and the first human BoDV-1 isolate was obtained from an unequivocally confirmed human BoDV-1 infection from the endemic area. Six of the eight BoDV-1-positive patients had no record of immunosuppression before the onset of fatal disease, whereas two were immunocompromised after solid organ transplantation. Typical initial symptoms were headache, fever, and confusion, followed by various neurological signs, deep coma, and severe brainstem involvement. Seven of nine patients with fatal encephalitis of unclear cause were BoDV-1 positive within one diagnostic centre. BoDV-1 sequence information and epidemiological analyses indicated independent spillover transmissions most likely from the local wild animal reservoir.
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