Research Communication

Surveillance of the rabies-related lyssavirus, Mokola in non-volant small mammals in South Africa

William C. McMahon, Jessica Coertse, Teresa Kearney, Mark Keith, Lourens H. Swanepoel, Wanda Markotter
Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research | Vol 88, No 1 | a1911 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ojvr.v88i1.1911 | © 2021 William C. McMahon, Jessica Coertse, Teresa Kearney, Mark Keith, Lourens H. Swanepoel, Wanda Markotter | This work is licensed under CC Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0
Submitted: 22 October 2020 | Published: 03 August 2021

About the author(s)

William C. McMahon, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, Department of Medical Virology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Jessica Coertse, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, Department of Medical Virology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Centre for Emerging Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases, National Institute of Communicable Diseases, National Health Laboratory Services, Johannesburg, South Africa
Teresa Kearney, Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Mark Keith, Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, Pretoria, South Africa
Lourens H. Swanepoel, Department of Zoology, University of Venda, Thohoyandou, South Africa
Wanda Markotter, Centre for Viral Zoonoses, Department of Medical Virology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

The reservoir host of Mokola virus (MOKV), a rabies-related lyssavirus species endemic to Africa, remains unknown. Only sporadic cases of MOKV have been reported since its first discovery in the late 1960s, which subsequently gave rise to various reservoir host hypotheses. One particular hypothesis focusing on non-volant small mammals (e.g. shrews, sengis and rodents) is buttressed by previous MOKV isolations from shrews (Crocidura sp.) and a single rodent (Lophuromys sikapusi). Although these cases were only once-off detections, it provided evidence of the first known lyssavirus species has an association with non-volant small mammals. To investigate further, retrospective surveillance was conducted in 575 small mammals collected from South Africa. Nucleic acid surveillance using a pan-lyssavirus quantitative real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) assay of 329 brain samples did not detect any lyssavirus ribonucleic acid (RNA). Serological surveillance using a micro-neutralisation test of 246 serum samples identified 36 serum samples that were positive for the presence of MOKV neutralising antibodies (VNAs). These serum samples were all collected from Gerbilliscus leucogaster (Bushveld gerbils) rodents from Meletse in Limpopo province (South Africa). Mokola virus infections in Limpopo province have never been reported before, and the high MOKV seropositivity of 87.80% in these gerbils may indicate a potential rodent reservoir.

Keywords

Bushveld gerbil; lyssavirus; Mokola; non-volant small mammal; rabies-related; reservoir; rodent; surveillance

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