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Aerosol infection of Balb/c mice with eastern equine encephalitis virus; susceptibility and lethality

Phelps, Amanda L., O’Brien, Lyn M., Eastaugh, Lin S., Davies, Carwyn, Lever, Mark S., Ennis, Jane, Zeitlin, Larry, Nunez, Alejandro, Ulaeto, David O.
Virology journal 2019 v.16 no.1 pp. 2
Culicidae, Eastern equine encephalitis virus, aerosols, birds, blood, blood-brain barrier, brain, death, disease susceptibility, dose response, epizootic diseases, histopathology, horses, human diseases, humans, lethal dose 50, lungs, meningoencephalitis, mice, models, mortality, pathogenesis, signs and symptoms (animals and humans), spleen, viral load, virology, viruses, United States
BACKGROUND: Eastern equine encephalitis virus is an alphavirus that naturally cycles between mosquitoes and birds or rodents in Eastern States of the US. Equine infection occurs by being bitten by cross-feeding mosquitoes, with a case fatality rate of up to 75% in humans during epizootic outbreaks. There are no licensed medical countermeasures, and with an anticipated increase in mortality when exposed by the aerosol route based on anecdotal human data and experimental animal data, it is important to understand the pathogenesis of this disease in pursuit of treatment options. This report details the clinical and pathological findings of mice infected with EEEV by the aerosol route, and use as a model for EEEV infection in humans. METHODS: Mice were exposed by the aerosol route to a dose range of EEEV to establish the median lethal dose. A pathogenesis study followed whereby mice were exposed to a defined dose of virus and sacrificed at time-points thereafter for histopathological analysis and virology. RESULTS: Clinical signs of disease appeared within 2 days post challenge, culminating in severe clinical signs within 24 h, neuro-invasion and dose dependent lethality. EEEV was first detected in the lung 1 day post challenge, and by day 3 peak viral titres were observed in the brain, spleen and blood, corresponding with severe meningoencephalitis, indicative of encephalitic disease. Lethality follows severe neurological signs, and may be linked to a threshold level of virus replication in the brain. Effective medical countermeasures for EEEV may necessitate early inoculation to inhibit infection of the brain in zoonotic incidents, and be able to traverse the blood-brain barrier to sufficiently interrupt replication in the brain in cases of aerosol infection. CONCLUSIONS: There is little human data on the hazard posed by aerosol infection with encephalitic alphaviruses, and use of EEEV as a bioweapon may be by the aerosol route. A well characterized model of aerosol exposure that recapitulates some of the most severe human clinical features is necessary to evaluate the efficacy of putative medical countermeasures, and to increase our understanding about how this route of infection induces such rapid neuro-invasion and resulting disease.