Rift Valley fever : development of diagnostics and vaccines

Abstract: Rift Valley Fever virus (RVFV) causes an infection with severe impact on animal and human health. The disease is endemic throughout almost the entire African continent and large regions of the Arabian Peninsula. During epidemics, high mortality is observed in animals, especially among cattle, goats, and sheep. In humans, the symptoms vary from a benign influenza-like disease to a life-threatening hemorrhagic fever. Due to the devastating effect on communities in endemic regions and the possibility of further spread of this virus, there is an imperative need to improve and develop control measurements against this emerging disease. Therefore, this thesis focuses on diagnostics and vaccines against RVFV. RVFV infection kinetics was studied in a mouse model system by detection and quantification of viral genomes, using a developed quantitative real-time PCR (QRT-PCR) method. This novel QRT-PCR method proved to be reliable and serves as a supplement to standard diagnostics, direct virus isolation and serological methods. High levels of viral RNA were found in blood and liver samples from experimentally infected mice during the first days post infection. Thereafter the levels declined rapidly and dropped below detection limit approximately seven days post infection. The QRT-PCR technique was also used in a study aimed to improve diagnosis of RVFV from field samples collected on filter strips. Today, the available RVFV vaccines are only approved for animal use and these vaccines have several shortcomings. Since RVFV is a highly pathogenic organism requiring bio-safety level 3 laboratories, two different none-replicating vaccine approaches have been applied and evaluated using a mouse model. A DNA based vaccine, administered via gene-gun, and the use of virus-like particles (VLP), by the intra-peritoneal route. RVFV specific and neutralising antibodies were raised with both vaccine approaches. However, VLP vaccination against Rift valley Fever proved to be more promising as a future vaccine, since higher titres of neutralising antibodies and improved survival rate were found upon a lethal RVFV challenge in mice. In conclusion, a sensitive and specific method for quantifying RVFV infection and a promising vaccine candidate against RVFV were developed.