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Bluetongue Serotype 2 and 9 Modified Live Vaccine Viruses as Causative Agents of Abortion in Livestock: A Retrospective Analysis in Italy



The recent outbreak caused by Schmallenberg virus, which affected sheep, goats and cattle in Europe, highlighted the importance of having a robust surveillance plan capable of monitoring abortions and malformations in the livestock offspring. In this context, bluetongue viruses (BTVs) represented and represent one of the major threats to the European livestock industry. Aiming to improve the understanding on BTV cross placental transmission and serotype involvement, in this retrospective study foetal spleens and/or brains of 663 ovines, 429 bovines, 155 goats and 17 buffaloes were tested for the presence of BTV by virus isolation. BTV vaccine strains were isolated from 31 foetuses (2.4%; 95% CI: 1.7–3.4%): 24 (3.6%; 95% CI: 2.4–5.3%) from ovine foetal tissues; 6 (1.4%; 95% CI: 0.6–3.0%) from bovine foetal tissues and 1 (0.6%; 95% CI: 0.2–3.5%) from the spleen of a caprine foetus. All foetuses were from animals vaccinated with either BTV-2 or BTV-2, and BTV-9 modified live vaccines (MLVs) produced by Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), South Africa. Among the 31 isolated vaccine strains, serotype 9 (n = 28) was more frequently isolated (P < 0.05) than serotype 2 (n = 3). In two cases infectious vaccine strains were found in the foetal tissues 2 months after the vaccine administration. Other pathogens known to be causative agents of abortion in ruminants were not detected nor isolated. This study demonstrates, for the first time, that BTV-2 and BTV-9 vaccine strains are able to cross the placental barrier of sheep, cattle and goats. BTV-2 and BTV-9 vaccine strains are able to infect foetuses and cause abortions or malformations depending on the period of pregnancy at the time of vaccination.