Culicoides spp. (Diptera : Ceratopogonidae) as vectors of bluetongue virus in South Africa – a review

30 Aug 2016

The aim of this paper is to consolidate vector competence studies on Culicoides midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) as vectors of Bluetongue virus (BTV) done over a period 25 years at the Agriculture Research Council ‑ Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute in South Africa. In 1944, it was demonstrated for the first time in South Africa that Culicoides midges transmit BTV. In 1991, field‑collected Culicoides imicola were fed on blood containing BTV‑3 or BTV‑6 and the infection rates were established as being 31% and 24%, respectively. In 1998, Culicoides bolitinos was shown to have a higher infection prevalence and virus titre/midge than C. imicola. This species was then shown to have a higher transmission potential for BTV‑1 over a range of incubation temperatures wider than the one showed by C. imicola. Attenuation of BTV also does not reduce its ability to infect competent Culicoides species. Oral susceptibility studies, involving 29 BTV isolates of various serotypes, indicated differences between various geographic virus isolates and Culicoides populations evaluated. While low recovery rates of European BTV strains from South African Culicoides species suggest co‑adaptation between orbiviruses and vectors in a given locality, co‑adaption was shown not to be essential for virus transmission. Cumulative results since 1991 provide evidence that at least 13 livestock‑associated Culicoides species are susceptible to BTV. Susceptibility results are supported by field isolations from 5 of these species. This implies that multi‑vector potential for the transmission of BTV will complicate the epidemiology of BT. It must be emphasised that neither oral susceptibility nor virus isolation/ detection from field‑collected specimens is proof that a species is a confirmed field vector.