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Disappearance of TBEV circulation among rodents in a natural focus in Alsace, Eastern France

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posted on 2023-05-03, 18:27 authored by Laure Bournez, Gerald Umhang, Marie Moinet, Jean-Marc Boucher, Jean-Michel Demerson, Christophe Caillot, Leo Legras, Elodie Devillers, Yves Hansmann, Aurelie Velay, Celine Richomme, Sara Moutailler, Franck Boué
Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) depends mainly on a fragile mode of transmission, the co-feeding between infected nymphs and larvae on rodents, and thus persists under a limited set of biotic and abiotic conditions. If these conditions change, natural TBEV foci might be unstable over time. We conducted a longitudinal study over seven years in a mountain forest in Alsace, Eastern France, located at the western border of known TBEV distribution. The objectives were (i) to monitor the persistence of TBEV circulation between small mammals and ticks and (ii) to discuss the presence of TBEV circulation in relation to the synchronous activity of larvae and nymphs, to the densities of questing nymphs and small mammals, and to potential changes in meteorological conditions and deer densities. Small mammals were trapped five times per year from 2012 to 2018 to collect blood samples and record the presence of feeding ticks, and were then released. Questing nymphs were collected twice a year. Overall, 1344 different small mammals (Myodes glareolus and Apodemus flavicollis) were captured and 2031 serum samples were tested for the presence of antibodies against TBEV using an in-house ELISA. Seropositive rodents (2.1%) were only found from 2012 to 2015, suggesting that the virus disappeared afterwards. In parallel, we observed unusual variations in inter-annual nymph abundance and intra-annual larval activity that could be related to exceptional meteorological conditions. Changes in the densities of questing nymphs and deer associated with the natural stochastic variations in the frequency of contacts between rodents and infected ticks may have contributed to the endemic fadeout of TBEV on the study site. Further studies are needed to assess whether such events occur relatively frequently in the area, which could explain the low human incidence of TBE in Alsace and even in other areas of France.


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Bournez, L., Umhang, G., Moinet, M., Boucher, J.-M., Demerson, J.-M., Caillot, C., … Boué, F. (2020). Disappearance of TBEV circulation among rodents in a natural focus in Alsace, Eastern France. Pathogens, 9(11), 930. doi:10.3390/pathogens9110930

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