The emergence of Schmallenberg virus across Culicoides communities and ecosystems in Europe
Schmallenberg virus (SBV), a novel arboviral pathogen, has emerged and spread across Europe since 2011 inflicting congenital deformities in the offspring of infected adult ruminants. Several species of Culicoides biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) have been implicated in the transmission of SBV through studies conducted in northern Europe. In this study Culicoides from SBV outbreak areas of mainland France and Italy (Sardinia) were screened for viral RNA. The role of both C. obsoletus and the Obsoletus complex (C. obsoletus and C. scoticus) in transmission of SBV were confirmed in France and SBV was also discovered in a pool of C. nubeculosus for the first time, implicating this species as a potential vector. While collections in Sardinia were dominated by C. imicola, only relatively small quantities of SBV RNA were detected in pools of this species and conclusive evidence of its potential role in transmission is required. In addition to these field-based studies, infection rates in colony-derived individuals of C. nubeculosus and field-collected C. scoticus are also examined in the laboratory. Rates of infection in C. nubeculosus were low, confirming previous studies, while preliminary examination of C. scoticus demonstrated that while this species can replicate SBV to a potentially transmissible level, further work is required to fully define comparative competence between species in the region. Finally, the oral competence for SBV of two abundant and widespread mosquito vector species in the laboratory is assessed. Neither Aedes albopictus nor Culex pipiens were demonstrated to replicate SBV to transmissible levels and appear unlikely to play a major role in transmission. Other vector competence data produced from studies across Europe to date is then comprehensively reviewed and compared with that generated previously for bluetongue virus.