Studying Nipah virus in pigs

Pathogenicity of Nipah henipavirus Bangladesh in a swine host. Kasloff SB*, Leung A*, Pickering BS, Smith G, Moffat E, Collignon B, Embury-Hyatt C, Kobasa D*, Weingartl HM. Sci Rep 2019 Mar 26;9(1):5230. doi:

This science story discusses the collaborative work to help improve understanding around the testing and transmission of a high consequence pathogen, namely Nipah virus. Beyond the scientific excellence demonstrated in this work, it highlights one of the NML’s important interagency collaborations with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

What was known about this area prior to your work, and why was the research done?

Nipah virus is a Containment Level 4 agent first described in a 1999 Malaysia outbreak where the virus transmitted from its natural bat host species to pigs, which then infected hundreds of farm workers with a 40% lethality rate. Since then, a new and strain of the virus appeared in Bangladesh, which differs from the Malaysia strain in its higher fatality rates (approx. 70%), its ability to cause person-to-person transmission, and the fact that all recorded outbreaks resulted from direct transmission of the virus from bats to people with no involvement of pigs whatsoever. This raises the question as to why the transmission chain of the Bangladesh strain of the Nipah virus differs in its ability to infect pigs, a critical point for international public health preparedness.

What are your most significant findings from this work?

The present study provides the first report on the susceptibility of infection for domestic pigs to the Bangladesh strain of Nipah virus. Interestingly, the pigs did not appear sick or develop strong antibody responses despite the virus replicating very well and spreading through many organ systems. From a disease detection perspective, this study confirmed that existing molecular diagnostic testing assays specific for the Malaysia strain are able to detect the Bangladesh strain of Nipah virus in infected pigs. However, current serological assays might not be specific enough to detect the Bangladesh strain.

What are the implications or impact of the research?

This study has improved understanding on the host range of Nipah virus. Further, findings could be used to help ensure that laboratories are prepared and have appropriate capacity to address this pathogen. Since existing serological detection methods for Nipah virus in pigs might not detect the current Bangladesh strain of the virus in infected pigs, development of specific tests is a gap that should be addressed.

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