Tick-borne encephalitis virus transmission between ticks cofeeding on specific immune natural rodent hosts.
Labuda M., Kozuch O., Zuffová E., Elecková E., Hails RS., Nuttall PA.
To determine whether the portion of a vertebrate host population having specific immunity to tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus can participate in the TBE virus transmission cycle, natural hosts immunized against TBE virus were challenged with infected and uninfected ticks. Yellow-necked field mice (Apodemus flavicollis) and bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) were either immunized with TBE virus by subcutaneous inoculation of the virus, or they were exposed to virus-infected Ixodes ricinus ticks. One month later, when serum neutralizing antibody was detectable, the animals were infested with infected (donor) adult female ticks and uninfected (recipient) nymphal ticks; recipients were allowed to feed either in close contact (chamber 1) or physically separated (chamber 2) from the infected donor ticks. Following challenge with infected (and uninfected) ticks, viremia developed in all the control, nonimmune animals, whereas viremia was undetectable in all those animals naturally immunized by previous exposure to infected ticks. Despite the presence of neutralizing antibodies in all the immunized animals, 89% (24/ 27) immune animals supported virus transmission between infected and uninfected cofeeding ticks. Most transmission was localized, occurring within chamber 1; disseminated transmission from chamber 1 to chamber 2 was reduced. Immunization by tick bite was more effective than immunization by syringe inoculation in blocking cofeeding virus transmission. Nevertheless 76% (9/12) animals with "natural" immunity still supported transmission. The results demonstrate that natural hosts having neutralizing antibodies to TBE virus (and no detectable viremia) can still support virus transmission between infected and uninfected ticks feeding closely together on the same animal. These observations have important epidemiological implications relating to the survival of TBE virus in Nature.