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One Health in action: Investigation of the first detected local cluster of fatal borna disease virus 1 (BoDV-1) encephalitis, Germany 2022.

BACKGROUND: Zoonotic Borna disease virus 1 (BoDV-1) causes fatal encephalitis in humans and animals. Subsequent to the detection of two paediatric cases in a Bavarian municipality in Germany within three years, we conducted an interdisciplinary One Health investigation. We aimed to explore seroprevalence in a local human population with a risk for BoDV-1 exposure as well as viral presence in environmental samples from local sites and BoDV-1 prevalence within the local small mammal population and its natural reservoir, the bicoloured white-toothed shrew (Crocidura leucodon).

METHODS: The municipality's adult residents participated in an anonymised sero-epidemiological study. Potential risk factors and clinical symptoms were assessed by an electronic questionnaire. Small mammals, environmental samples and ticks from the municipality were tested for BoDV-1-RNA. Shrew-derived BoDV-1-sequences together with sequences of the two human cases were phylogenetically analysed.

RESULTS: In total, 679 citizens participated (response: 41 %), of whom 38 % reported shrews in their living environment and 19 % direct shrew contact. No anti-BoDV-1 antibodies were detected in human samples. BoDV-1-RNA was also undetectable in 38 environmental samples and 336 ticks. Of 220 collected shrews, twelve of 40 C. leucodon (30%) tested BoDV-1-RNA-positive. BoDV-1-sequences from the previously diagnosed two paediatric patients belonged to two different subclades, that were also present in shrews from the municipality.

INTERPRETATION: Our data support the interpretation that human BoDV-1 infections are rare even in endemic areas and primarily manifest as severe encephalitis. Sequence analysis linked both previous paediatric human infections to the local shrew population, but indicated independent infection sources.

FUNDING: The project was partly financed by funds of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (grant numbers: 01KI2005A, 01KI2005C, 01KI1722A, 01KI1722C, 01KI2002 to MaBe, DR, RGU, DT, BS) as well as by the ReForM-A programme of the University Hospital Regensburg (to MaBa) and by funds of the Bavarian State Ministry of Health, Care and Prevention, project "Zoonotic Bornavirus Focal Point Bavaria - ZooBoFo" (to MaBa, MaBe, BS, MMB, DR, PS, RGU).

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