Transition of Akabane virus genogroups and its association with changes in the nature of disease in Japan.
Akabane virus (AKAV) is teratogenic to the foetus of domestic ruminants and causes a significant reproduction loss in cattle in Japan. In several past epizootics in cattle, AKAV was also associated with post-natal encephalomyelitis, mainly in calves and young stock. Previously analysed AKAV isolates in East Asia form two major clusters, genogroups I and II, with isolates involved in encephalomyelitis belonging mainly to the former. Between 2007 and 2013, AKAV epizootics were regularly observed in Japan during the summer/autumn season, and abnormal deliveries and post-natal encephalomyelitis caused by the virus in cattle were reported. During this period, 30 AKAV isolates were obtained from diseased and sentinel cattle, a piglet and Culicoides biting midges throughout Japan and were subjected to genetic comparison and phylogenetic analysis with previous isolates. In 2007, 2011 and 2013, AKAV belonging to genogroup I was identified in the central nervous systems of calves showing neurological disorders. Notably, a total of 165 cases of bovine encephalomyelitis were reported in 2011 and the isolated viruses from affected animals shared high genetic identities with a South Korean isolate that was associated with a large outbreak in 2010, suggesting some epidemiological linkage between these epizootics. Epizootics of genogroup II were observed in 2008 and 2010, but bovine post-natal encephalomyelitis cases rarely occurred. Our findings suggest that the frequent incursion of genogroup I isolates has increased the frequency of post-natal encephalomyelitis cases in Japan in recent years. Infection by genogroup I virus was also identified in piglets with neurological disorders or congenital malformations in 2011 and 2013. The aetiological role of AKAV in pigs should be elucidated in the future.