Both horses and veterinarians exposed to West Nile Virus in Palestine, study shows

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In samples collected in North Palestine, antibodies against West Nile virus were detected in 60.9% of the horse serum samples and 23% of the samples from veterinarians.
In samples collected in North Palestine, antibodies against West Nile virus were detected in 60.9% of the horse serum samples and 23% of the samples from veterinarians. Photo by Avi Theret

A significant number of horses and veterinarians in Northern Palestine have been exposed to the West Nile virus, research reveals.

West Nile fever is a mosquito-borne disease affecting humans and domesticated animals.

In humans, about 80% of cases involve no symptoms, although in 20% of cases infected individuals develop flu-like symptoms for 3-6 days.

Only about 1% of infected people fall seriously ill with neurological symptoms, mainly meningitis and encephalitis.

In horses, the clinical signs of West Nile infection include fever, impaired balance, behavioral changes, and muscle weakness or paralysis.

About 10% of affected horses show neurological problems.

Ibrahim Alzuheir and his fellow researchers, writing in the journal Veterinary World, said the clinical signs of West Nile fever in horses can be hard to differentiate from those of other diseases, leading to misdiagnosis.

The study team set out to determine the seroprevalence and risk factors for West Nile fever in veterinarians and horses in Palestine.

Serum samples from 100 veterinarians and 87 horses were collected for analysis, targeting cities in Northern Palestine. Antibodies against West Nile virus were detected in 60.9% of the horse serum samples and 23% of the samples from veterinarians.

In horses, location is a risk factor for the seropositivity, whereas age, sex, breed, and intended use of the animals were not associated with increased seropositivity.

The positive samples among the veterinarians were detected in all locations, age groups, experience length, and work sectors. The seropositivity was not influenced by these variables, the researchers said.

The authors noted that there is no vaccine against the virus available in Palestine, so all seropositive samples resulted from virus exposure.

The results, they said, show that West Nile virus circulates in most regions of Palestine.

“West Nile fever should be considered a hazard for specific occupational professions and a public health concern. Physicians and veterinarians should consider related clinical symptoms in exposed workers and animals and promptly report suspected cases.”

They said surveillance studies on animals, humans, and vectors are needed to better define areas where West Nile and other mosquito-borne diseases are endemic.

Applying the One Health approach by reconnecting public health and occupational health and safety may truly improve the health of the general public, working population and animals, they said.

The study team comprised Ibrahim Alzuheir, Adnan Fayyad, Nasr Jalboush, Rosemary Abdallah, Sameeh Abutarbush, Mohammad Gharaibeh, Majd Bdarneh, Nimer Khraim, Mohammad Abu Helal and Belal Abu Helal, all variously affiliated with An-Najah National University in Palestine, the Palestinian Livestock Development Center, and the Jordan University of Science and Technology.

Alzuheir I, Fayyad A, Jalboush N, Abdallah R, Abutarbush S, Gharaibeh M, Bdarneh M, Khraim N, Helal MA, Helal BA (2021) Seroprevalence and risk factors of West Nile virus infection in veterinarians and horses in Northern Palestine, Veterinary World, 14(5): 1241-1246.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License,  can be read here

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