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Japanese encephalitis virus is a pathogen (i.e. an agent responsible for diseases) transmitted by mosquitoes and is mainly present in Asia. It replicates in pigs and water birds, but can be transmitted to humans in which it occasionally causes neurological diseases. This project will increase our preparedness to respond to an introduction of the virus in Belgium. We study whether the virus can infect Belgian breed pigs and which immune responses are induced by the pig to clear the virus. Furthermore, it will allow to implement diagnostic tests to detect the virus and virus specific-antibodies.
Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) is a zoonotic mosquito-borne flavivirus that is currently endemic in important parts of the eastern hemisphere. Its natural transmission cycle includes Culex mosquitoes as main vector, and pigs and waterbirds as important amplification hosts. Humans and horses can also become infected but they are considered as dead-end hosts. Although JEV is considered as a potentially emerging disease for Europe, only limited efforts have been made up till now in preparation of a potential JEV emergence, probably because the likelihood of autochthonous JEV transmission by indigenous mosquitoes is considered low.
Several recent findings however clearly show that an accidental introduction of JEV in Europe, and especially in pig producing countries like Belgium, could be associated with higher economic and health risks than previously thought. It was namely shown that European Culex pipiens mosquitoes, being the most abundant mosquito species in Belgium, are competent vectors for JEV and that JEV can also spread between pigs via direct contact in the absence of a mosquito vector.
To assess the potential importance of this threat for the pig industry, detailed knowledge on virus-pig interactions is needed but is currently missing. In this project we therefore study the JEV pathogenesis and associated innate, humoral and cellular immune responses in pigs after infection with JEV. This will allow to develop a suitable infection model that in the future can be used to validate the vaccine efficacy of newly developed and existing vaccines in European breed pigs. Furthermore, it will allow to implement several diagnostic tests allowing the detection of JEV and JEV-specific antibodies in different matrices. Strong efforts will be dedicated in analysing the cross-reactivity of these tests with other flaviviruses.
This description amalgamates two successive projects:
- 10/2017 — 09/2018 | JEV-PIG (RF17/6319)
- 0½019 — 06/2021 | JEV-PIG-IMMUNODIA (RF18/6329)