Presence of antibodies to Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever virus in sheep in Tunisia, North Africa
Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is an emerging tick-borne disease causing severe and fatal haemorrhagic syndrome in humans. Hyalomma spp. ticks are the primary vectors and sheep are important CCHF virus (CCHFV)-amplifying hosts. In this study, blood samples and ticks collected in October 2019 from 270 sheep from 15 farms across Tunisia constituted the main research material. Moreover, the sera of the same animals taken at different periods between 2018 and 2019 were also used to obtain comparative results. To investigate the presence of anti-CCHFV antibodies in sheep, all sera were tested using ELISA. Reactive sera were further characterised by a virus neutralisation test (VNT). Overall, one out of the 270 tested sheep was both ELISA- and strongly VNT-positive to CCHFV. Another two sheep were borderline ELISA-positive but did not exhibit neutralising antibodies. Ninety-one ticks were collected from all sampled sheep, of which 34 (37.4%) belonged to Hyalomma spp. This is the first report of anti-CCHFV antibodies in sheep from Tunisia. Both the results of this study and the recent CCHFV detection in ticks collected from camels in southern Tunisia indicate that further studies are needed to determine the competent tick vector in the country and to characterise the epidemiological cycle of CCHFV.