Using shared needles for subcutaneous inoculation can transmit bluetongue virus mechanically between ruminant hosts

Bluetongue virus (BTV) is an economically important arbovirus of ruminants that is transmitted by Culicoides spp. biting midges. BTV infection of ruminants results in a high viraemia, suggesting that repeated sharing of needles between animals could result in its iatrogenic transmission. Studies defining the risk of iatrogenic transmission of blood-borne pathogens by less invasive routes, such as subcutaneous or intradermal inoculations are rare, even though the sharing of needles is common practice for these inoculation routes in the veterinary sector. Here we demonstrate that BTV can be transmitted by needle sharing during subcutaneous inoculation, despite the absence of visible blood contamination of the needles. The incubation period, measured from sharing of needles, to detection of BTV in the recipient sheep or cattle, was substantially longer than has previously been reported after experimental infection of ruminants by either direct inoculation of virus, or through blood feeding by infected Culicoides. Although such mechanical transmission is most likely rare under field condition, these results are likely to influence future advice given in relation to sharing needles during veterinary vaccination campaigns and will also be of interest for the public health sector considering the risk of pathogen transmission during subcutaneous inoculations with re-used needles.

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