Could Bovine, Porcine Rotavirus Affect Horses?

Could Bovine, Porcine Rotavirus Affect Horses?

Genomic research suggests that horses could also be susceptible to rotavirus from both cows and pigs.


We know that rotavirus—which causes severe diarrhea in foals—is a highly contagious virus that can spread rapidly through your foaling barn. But results of new genomic research from Asian scientists suggests that horses are also susceptible to rotavirus from both cows and pigs.

“Our study, based on whole genomic analysis, has provided the first conclusive evidence that bovine and porcine rotavirus can be transmitted to horses,” said Souvik Ghosh, BVSc, AH, MVSc, PhD, lecturer in the department of hygiene at Sapporo Medical University School of Medicine in Japan.

Rotavirus is made up of 11 gene segments that can “reassert,” meaning they can blend with other rotavirus strains to create a new, mixed strain, Ghosh said. For example, previous study results have shown that a rotavirus from cattle could mix with a rotavirus from a horse to create a new rotavirus strain that has nine bovine gene segments and two equine segments.

However, Ghosh’s study is the first to show that horses can be infected with rotavirus strains in which all 11 gene segments are bovinelike, meaning they are 100% bovine rotavirus strains. In other words, the disease can no longer be considered species-specific.

In a pioneering study, Ghosh and colleagues carried out whole genomic analysis of rotavirus strains found in horses. These included three “common” strains and one “unusual” strain, found in diarrheic foals in Japan. The common strains turned out to be genomically very similar to other common equine rotavirus strains throughout the world. The unusual one, however, had 11 out of 11 bovine gene segments.

In a previous study, Ghosh’s team analyzed the whole genome of another unusual strain of rotavirus in a foal and found it to have at least nine piglike segments. They could not definitively identify the other two segments, but they appeared to be either from pig or human rotaviruses, he said.

Ghosh said he hopes his research will lead to better treatment and prevention of the highly contagious disease. “Information on whole genomes are essential to study the exact origin and evolution of viruses, interspecies transmission, and reassortment events,” he said. “Moreover, information on whole genomes may provide vital leads to the development of effective prophylactic or therapeutic strategies, and aid in monitoring vaccine efficacy.”

The studies, "Whole genomic analyses of equine group A rotaviruses from Japan: evidence for bovine-to-equine interspecies transmission and reassortment events," and "Evidence for the porcine origin of equine rotavirus strain H-1," were published in Veterinary Microbiology.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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