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Seroprevalence and Risk Factors for Equine West Nile Virus Infections in Eastern Germany, 2020

West Nile virus (WNV) infections were first detected in Germany in 2018, but information about WNV seroprevalence in horses is limited. The study’s overall goal was to gather information that would help veterinarians, horse owners, and veterinary-, and public health- authorities understand the spread of WNV in Germany and direct protective measures. For this purpose, WNV seroprevalence was determined in counties with and without previously registered WNV infections in horses, and risk factors for seropositivity were estimated. The cohort consisted of privately owned horses from nine counties in Eastern Germany. A total of 940 serum samples was tested by competitive panflavivirus ELISA (cELISA), and reactive samples were further tested by WNV IgM capture ELISA and confirmed by virus neutralization test (VNT). Information about potential risk factors was recorded by questionnaire and analyzed by logistic regression. A total of 106 serum samples showed antibodies against flaviviruses by cELISA, of which six tested positive for WNV IgM. The VNT verified a WNV infection for 54 samples (50.9%), while 35 sera neutralized tick-borne encephalitis virus (33.0%), and eight sera neutralized Usutu virus (7.5%). Hence, seroprevalence for WNV infection was 5.8% on average and was significantly higher in counties with previously registered infections (p = 0.005). The risk factor analysis showed breed type (pony), housing in counties with previously registered infections, housing type (24 h turn-out), and presence of outdoor shelter as the main significant risk factors for seropositivity. In conclusion, we estimated the extent of WNV infection in the resident horse population in Eastern Germany and showed that seroprevalence was higher in counties with previously registered equine WNV infections.



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