The distribution of bluetongue virus has changed, possibly related to climate change. Vaccination of domestic ruminants is taking place throughout Europe to control BT expansion. The high density of wild red deer (Cervus elaphus) in some European regions has raised concerns about the potential role that unvaccinated European wild ungulates might play in maintaining or spreading the virus. Most species of wild ruminants are susceptible to BTV infection, although frequently asymptomatically. The red deer population density in Europe is similar to that of domestic livestock in some areas, and red deer could account for a significant percentage of the BTV-infection susceptible ruminant population in certain regions. High serum antibody prevalence has been found in red deer, and BTV RNA (BTV-1, BTV-4 and BTV-8) has been repeatedly detected in naturally infected European red deer by means of RT-PCR. Moreover, red deer may carry the virus asymptomatically for long periods. Epidemiological studies suggest that there are more BT cases in domestic ungulates in those areas where red deer are present. Vector and host density and environmental factors are implicated in the spatial distribution of BT. As in domestic ruminants, BTV transmission among wild ruminants depends almost exclusively on Culicoides vectors, mainly C. imicola but also members of the C. obsoletus and C. pulicaris complex. However, BTV transmission from red deer to the vector remains to be demonstrated. Transplacental, oral, and mechanical transmissions are also suspected. Thus, wild red deer contribute to the still unclear epidemiology of BTV in Europe, and could complicate BTV control in domestic ruminants. However, further research at the wildlife host-vector-pathogen interface and regarding the epidemiology of BT and BT vectors in wildlife habitats is needed to confirm this hypothesis. Moreover, red deer could be used as BT sentinels. Serum and spleen tissue of calves sampled from late autumn onwards should be the target samples when establishing a BTV surveillance program. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
- Red deer