Open Access

Seroprevalence of Louping Ill virus (LIV) antibodies in sheep submitted for post mortem examination in the North West of Ireland in 2011

  • Damien Barrett1Email author,
  • Daniel M Collins2,
  • Guy McGrath2 and
  • Colm Ó Muireagain1
Irish Veterinary JournalThe official journal of Veterinary Ireland, the representative body for the veterinary profession in Ireland201265:20

DOI: 10.1186/2046-0481-65-20

Received: 31 May 2012

Accepted: 13 November 2012

Published: 11 December 2012

Abstract

Blood samples were collected opportunistically at routine post mortem examination from 199 sheep which came from 152 flocks. The location of each submitting flock was mapped. Sera were tested using a goose blood haemagglutination inhibition assay for louping ill virus. There was an animal level prevalence of 8.5%, and a flock level prevalence of 9.8%. The greatest proportion of seropositive animals was identified among the animals older than 24 months of age. The elevation of the land associated with positive flocks was greater than that of negative flocks. Lesions of non-suppurative meningoencephalitis were observed in three of the 199 animals.

Keywords

Louping Ill Sheep Routine post mortem Prevalence Ireland

Background

Louping ill is a tick borne viral infection which predominately affects sheep causing neurological disease. Louping ill may also affect goats and cattle. The condition has been reported in humans and is classified as a zoonosis[1]. Louping ill is considered a significant problem among red grouse in Scotland[2]. Louping ill is caused by louping ill virus which is a flavivirus[1]. The name 'louping-ill' is derived from an old Scottish word describing the effect of the disease in sheep whereby they 'loup' or spring into the air. Louping ill gives rise to a diffuse non-suppurative meningoencephalitis and manifests clinically with ataxia, pyrexia, seizures and opisthotonous, posterior paralysis, coma and death[3]. The disease is also associated with sudden death. Concurrent tick borne fever infection (Anaplasma phagocytophilum) is thought to amplify the effect of the louping ill virus[4]. Morbidity rates of between five and 60% have been reported[3]. The condition is transmitted by the tick Ixodes ricinus, and its prevalence is closely associated with the distribution of this vector[5]. There is a seasonal occurrence in the spring and autumn, coinciding with the activity of the tick vector[3]. The presence of deer is associated with an increased tick population in a locality[5]. Climate change has been implicated in increased tick populations[5].

The objective of this study was to estimate the prevalence of exposure to louping ill virus among carcasses submitted for routine post mortem examination to Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory, in the North West of Ireland. There have been no previous studies of the prevalence of louping ill in Ireland.

Methods

Blood samples were collected from 199 sheep from 152 flocks, which had been submitted to Sligo RVL during 2011. The samples were collected opportunistically at routine post-mortem examination. Carcasses are accepted for post mortem examination on the basis that the herd owner consents to any tests carried out at the discretion of the veterinary pathologist. Sera were tested using a goose blood haemagglutination inhibition assay at the Virology Section in the Moredun Research Institute, Scotland. Samples were titrated out in the presence of a constant virus antigen and goose red blood cells. The first dilution was 1:10 with doubling dilutions thereafter. A titre of 1:20 was used as the cut off for positive / negative results. Titres were expressed as the highest dilution at which inhibition of haemagglunination was detected. A presumptive diagnosis of louping ill was made based on histopathological changes associated with non-suppurative meningoencephalitis in the brains of affected animals consistent with a diagnosis of louping ill.

Maps were created using ESRI Arcview 3.2 software (Redlands; California). Flocks were represented by the centroid of the largest fragment of land associated with each flock, or the corresponding townland where a flock number was not available (2 flocks) (Figure1).
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2F2046-0481-65-20/MediaObjects/13620_2012_Article_34_Fig1_HTML.jpg
Figure 1

Shows the location of sampled sheep flocks.

For the elevation analysis, the centroid of all fragments in a farm was calculated and used to create a point map. This point map was then queried to find the intersection value of an underlying digital elevation model surface using a bilinear interpolation of each value (ArcGIS 10, ESRI, Redlands, CA, USA). This addresses the issue of a value from a single point representing a fragment of land. The output consisted of an elevation value in metres above sea level for all fragments of land in the study.

Results

Seventeen samples showed serological evidence of exposure to louping ill virus from the 199 blood samples, giving an animal level prevalence of 8.5%. These positive samples came from 15 of the 152 flocks, giving a flock level prevalence of 9.8%. Two flocks each had two sero-positive animals, while the remaining 13 flocks had a single sero-positive animal. Six flocks had both positive and negative samples. The greatest proportion of sero-positive animals was found among the adult age group (Table1). The temporal distribution of the detection of sero-positive animals is presented in Table2. The geographical distribution of positive cases is outlined in Table3. The greatest number of cases was in Co. Donegal. The post mortem diagnosis and the signalment of the 17 sero-positive animals are presented in Tables4 and5 respectively. There was a difference of 106 metres in the average maximum elevation of land parcels of holdings associated with positive flocks grazed was 106 metres higher than that the maximum elevation of the land associated with negative flocks (Table6), and there was a 40 metre difference in the mean elevation between the positive and negative flocks.
Table 1

Age breakdown of louping ill positive sheep

Age category

No positive

No submitted

Prevalence(%)

0-6 month old

0

43

0

6-12 month old

2

35

5.7

12-24 month old

0

17

0

Greater than 24 months

15

104

14.4

Total

17

199

8.5

Table 2

Month of submission of louping ill positive sheep

Month submitted

No. positive

No submitted

% seropositive

January 2011

0

14

0

February 2011

1

7

14.3

March 2011

2

37

5.4

April 2011

5

35

14.2

May 2011

0

16

0

June 2011

1

12

8.3

July 2011

1

6

16.6

August 2011

1

10

10

September 2011

1

17

5.8

October 2011

1

21

4.8

November 2011

1

6

16.6

December 2011

3

18

16.6

Table 3

Submission of samples by county

County

No. positive

No submitted

% seropositive

Cavan

0

6

0

Donegal

8

38

21.0

Leitrim

3

27

11.1

Longford

1

2

-

Mayo

3

23

13.0

Roscommon

0

9

0

Sligo

2

94

2.1

Table 4

Post mortem diagnosis of 17 seropositive samples

Diagnosis

No. of cases

Louping ill

3

Listeriosis

3

No diagnosis

1

Septicaemia

3

Pneumonia

3

Pregnancy toxaemia (twin lamb disease)

2

Parasitic gastro enteritis

1

Acute Fascioliasis

1

Table 5

Signalment of 17 seropositive cases

History

No. of cases

Pneumonia / tachypnoea

2

Ataxia

5

Ataxia and / tachypnoea

2

Sudden death

4

Dull

2

Lameness

1

Ill thrift

1

Table 6

Comparison of the mean and median of the maximum, minimum and mean elevations for flocks where antibodies to louping ill were detected to flocks where no antibodies were detected

 

Positive flocks

Negative flocks

Difference

Max elevation (m)

Mean

277.0

170.8

106.2

Median

254.0

113.5

140.5

Min Elevation (m)

Mean

59.7

52.0

7.7

Median

56.5

47.0

9.5

Mean Elevation (m)

Mean

134.5

94.3

40.2

Median

105.0

83.5

21.5

Discussion and evaluation

This study has found an animal level seroprevalence of 8.5% and a flock level seroprevalence of 9.8%.

However, caution would be advised in extrapolating these figures to the national sheep population as the sample is biased due to the opportunistic nature of the sampling protocol. Secondly, a greater proportion than the national average of the land area within the Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory (RVL) catchment area would be classified as upland with rough grazing, and therefore would be more likely to have a tick burden, than areas with a greater proportion of improved grassland. Further there was an uneven distribution of submissions from the counties within the catchment area. It has been shown in a previous report that a significant determinant in submitting a carcass to an RVL is distance from the submitting farm to the RVL[6] and this study emphasises this further with 47% of submissions coming from Co. Sligo. The relatively small sample size and the number of positive animals may also raise concerns relating to study power. Despite these shortcomings, this study provides interesting information on the epidemiology of louping ill in Irish sheep flocks in the northwest of Ireland.

The greatest proportion of sero-positive animals was in the adult (greater than 24 month old) category. This may in part reflect historical seroconversion where an animal developed immunity following infection, and may not be necessarily associated with active infection at the time of sampling.

If an adult sheep were introduced to the farmland, it would have had no prior immunity to the condition and would be more susceptible. Of the 17 cases encountered in the present study, three of these were in recently purchased sheep. However, it cannot be determined if these affected sheep had been on a tick-infested land parcel earlier in their lives. Traditionally, a seasonal pattern of occurrence has been observed with louping ill[3]. Louping ill and listeriosis were diagnosed at post mortem in six of the 17 positive cases.

The elevation of the land grazed by sheep in flocks where louping ill was diagnosed was greater than that of the flocks where no sero-positive animals were found. This is as expected as the tick required for the transmission of louping ill is found on rough grazing land which tends to be at higher elevations.

Despite the awareness of louping ill as an endemic disease in Ireland for many years, this is the first published report detailing its occurrence in the north west of Ireland.

Conclusion

There was an animal level prevalence of 8.5%, and a flock level prevalence of 9.8%. The greatest proportion of sero-positive animals was identified among the animals older than 24 months of age. The elevation of the land associated with positive flocks was greater than that of negative flocks.

Declarations

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Dr Kim Willoughby of the Moredun Research Institute for advice and assistance. We are grateful to Caroline Harte, of Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory, for clerical assistance.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory
(2)
Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis, School of Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin

References

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Copyright

© Barrett et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://​creativecommons.​org/​licenses/​by/​2.​0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.