Tick-Borne Encephalitis Virus, United Kingdom

Maya Holding; Stuart D. Dowall; Jolyon M. Medlock; Daniel P. Carter; Steven T. Pullan; James Lewis; Richard Vipond; Mara S. Rocchi; Matthew Baylis; Roger Hewson


Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2020;26(1):90-96. 

In This Article


Deerstalkers submitted a total of 1,323 serum samples, of which 14 samples were excluded from analysis because of insufficient location or deer species information. Serum samples were obtained from 5 deer species and a hybrid of 2 species; 61% of samples submitted were from male deer. The most frequently sampled species were roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) (51%), followed by fallow deer (Dama dama) (19%). Samples were submitted from across Scotland and England, but distribution and density of samples varied by county (Figure 1, panel C). A limited number of samples were submitted from across the Midlands and parts of Northern England; no samples were submitted from Wales.

Figure 1.

Results for deer serum samples and ticks tested for tick-borne encephalitis virus, United Kingdom. A, B) Number of samples tested and seroprevalence of samples positive by ELISA (A) and HAI (B). C) Number of ticks tested by county; inset shows magnification of testing area with ticks positive by real-time reverse transcription PCR. HAI, hemagglutination inhibition. Source: Ordnance Survey data, © Crown copyright and database right 2019; and National Statistics data, © Crown copyright and database right 2019.

Of serum samples from across the United Kingdom, 4% were positive by ELISA, and 5% by HAI. Cohen's κ indicated substantial agreement (0.61) between the methods, indicating ELISA results agreed closely with HAI test results (Table 1). ELISA yielded positive results in all deer species for which it was used. These were 27/663 roe, 10/246 fallow, 9/242 red deer (Cervus elaphus), 6/108 muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi), 1/48 sika (Cervus nippon), and 0/2 red/sika hybrids. HAI determined the following positives: 28/662 roe, 15/245 fallow, 18/242 red, 7/106 muntjac, 0/45 sika, and 1/2 red/sika hybrid.

ELISA- and HAI-positive samples were geographically distributed to specific areas (Figure 1, panels A, B); seroprevalence was high in southwestern Norfolk and northwestern Suffolk (Thetford Forest) in the east of England. Norfolk had the highest seroprevalence detected by ELISA (51.4%), followed by Hampshire (14.3%), Suffolk (10.7%), and Scottish Highlands (8.6%) (Table 2).

Of all ticks submitted from deer carcasses, 2,041 collected from 339 deer were from within 15 km of an ELISA-positive result. All ticks were identified as I. ricinus; 1,450 were adult females, 585 adult males, and 6 nymphs. Tick availability for testing by area of seropositive foci varied (Figure 1, panel C); most ticks tested were collected from Argyll and Bute, and an average of 6 ticks were tested per deer. Five (4 adult males, 1 adult female) of the 2,041 ticks tested positive by the LIV/TBEV rRT-PCR[20] and were all within the Norfolk/Suffolk focus (Figure 1, panel C). No LIV RNA was detected in these 5 ticks when they were tested by rRT-PCR designed to detect only LIV.[21] The 192 ticks tested from within the Norfolk/Suffolk focus resulted in a prevalence of 2.6% in this area.

One tick (male) showed high levels of TBEV RNA (cycle threshold 15.4). Sequencing revealed a full-length TBEV genome designated TBEV-UK (GenBank accession no. MN128700). Phylogenetic analysis illustrates this as a TBEV-Eu subtype; it is most closely related to the Norwegian Mandal strain of TBEV isolated from ticks in 2009 (Figure 2), sharing a 99% sequence identity.

Figure 2.

Phylogenetic relationship between TBEV-UK from a tick in the United Kingdom and contemporary strains of TBEV. The tree was constructed with a maximum-likelihood analysis using full-length complete TBEV genomes and is rooted with the tickborne Powassan virus. GenBank accession numbers of each sequence are provided in brackets. TBEV, tick-borne encephalitis virus; TBEV-Eu, TBEV-European; TBEV-FE, TBEV-Far Eastern; TBEV-S, TBEV-Siberian; TBEV-UK, TBEV-United Kingdom.