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Institute of Diagnostic Virology (IVD)

National Reference Laboratory for African Horse Sickness (AHS)

African Horse Sickness (AHS) is a notifiable seasonal virus infection of odd-toed ungulates, causing peracute and acute disease predominantly in equids. The etiologic agent is a double-stranded RNA virus (African Horse Sickness Virus, AHSV) in the Orbivirus genus (family Reoviridae). Upon first introduction of the virus into a previously free region, lethality in infected horses can be as high as 95%, significantly impacting local economies. Disease is most severe in horses, but only mild in horse/donkey hybrids and donkeys. Dogs can develop disease after ingesting infected horseflesh.

Even though clinical symptoms usually are pathognomonic, laboratory confirmation is essential to avoid confusing AHS with other equine diseases (equine encephalitides, equine viral arteritis). AHSV antigen or antibodies can be detected in the laboratory. In endemic areas (mostly in Africa) AHSV is transmitted by hematophagous Culicoides midges. Indigenous European midge species are also assumed to be suitable vectors for AHSV. To prepare for an AHS outbreak, the European Union has created a vaccine bank.

  • Primary contact for federal and state authorities regarding AHSV detection and control
  • Virus isolation and serotyping for AHSV samples
  • Strain collection, reference genome samples and sera
  • Development, standardization and improvement of AHSV detection methods
  • Participation in EU ring trials, working groups and research projects
  • Virus isolation in cell culture
  • Pan-AHSV genome detection with diverse RT-qPCR methods
  • Serotype-specific AHSV genome detection by RT-PCR and sequencing
  • Strain characterization by genome sequencing
  • AHSV reference strains (serotypes 1 to 9)
  • AHSV antibody sera
  • Improvement of AHSV genome detection and characterization by RT-qPCR
  • Establishment of serotype-specific RT-qPCR assays
  • Establishment and optimization of the AHSV serum neutralization test (SNT)
  • Council Directive 92/35/EEC laying down control rules and measures to combat African horse sickness
  • Commission Decision 2009/3/EC establishing Community reserves of vaccines against African horse sickness