Saint Louis Encephalitis Virus Found in Neurologic Horse

The encephalitis virus once thought to be inert in horses has been identified in a Brazilian horse exhibiting neurologic signs, researchers in that country say.
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An encephalitis virus once thought to be inert in horses has been identified in a Brazilian horse exhibiting neurologic signs, researchers in that country say.

The Saint Louis encephalitis virus (SLEV) can cause mild encephalitis in humans and some animal species, but horses have never before shown clinical signs despite frequent infection in North and South America, said Renato de Lima Santos, DVM, MS, PhD, professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. However, a 12-year-old male horse from southeastern Brazil recently developed clinical signs of neurologic disease, which the researchers believe were caused by SLEV.

“This case is very important because, to our knowledge, it is the first SLEV infection in a horse that is associated with neurologic disease,” said Santos. “The horse is known to be a reservoir of this virus, but now we know that the virus can actually cause disease in the equine host.”

The virus is transmitted from one host to another by mosquitos, Santos said. It is considered endemic in the Americas, from Canada to Argentina, and there are no vaccines or effective treatments for the disease in any species

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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