The discovery of an emaciated, blind antelope in a Wyoming field has led to the identification of a new type of virus. Although the virus has not been detected in livestock, researchers warn veterinarians to be on the lookout.
Concerned that the wandering antelope might have herpesvirus infection or pinkeye, researchers at Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory performed a series of tests on the animal. "At the Wyoming laboratory, they ran a whole battery of tests and got a hit on pestivirus, but a weak hit," said Julia F. Ridpath, PhD, a microbiologist at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa.
Pestiviruses, single-stranded RNA viruses, causes conditions that include bovine viral diarrhea, hog cholera, and border disease, which afflicts sheep. The viruses are spread through animal contact, via saliva, urine, and feces, and they are easily transmissible when animals share water, feed, or grass.
When the Wyoming-based researchers had difficulty growing the virus in their laboratory, they sent the oddly behaving pathogen to Dr. Ridpath for genomic sequencing. Using nontraditional culture methods, she determined they had discovered a novel pestivirus.
At press time, researchers had not identified the new pathogen, currently called antelope pestivirus, in other animals and did not know whether it was host specific. The possibility exists, however, that the virus has already infected livestock. "What we are beginning to wonder is, do we have a lot more of this out there and we simply didn't have tools to look for it and weren't looking for it?" Dr. Ridpath said.
Veterinarians and farmers need to be on the watch for sick wildlife and livestock. "We are at a point in our history that we have more wildlife and more domestic animals in contact than ever before," Dr. Ridpath said. "Wildlife can be reservoirs for disease. Where range and water are shared, we should be paying close attention."