African sheep farmer checking on flock
Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) causes abortions and death in livestock including sheep, goats and cattle in Africa, devastating local economies. It can also cause severe disease in people. Outbreaks in Saudi Arabia and Yemen have resulted in countries imposing embargoes on live animal exports from affected regions. There is concern that the virus could spread to Europe. Tests that measure an antibody response to infection are commonly used for diagnosis and surveillance of RVFV infection in animals or humans, but existing tests are not able to distinguish between antibodies that are present as a result of infection from antibodies resulting from previous vaccination. This project addresses the need for more specific rapid tests for RVFV antibodies in livestock in collaboration with the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation. We are using a novel approach (next-generation phage display) to identify peptides that mimic the small regions of virus proteins that are specifically recognised by antibodies during infection. The assays that are developed will contribute to ensuring that robust and timely serosurveillance for RVFV can be carried out and reduce barriers to trade of livestock from countries such as Kenya where the disease is endemic.
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