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Sunshinevirus in Australian snakes: Investigating the link with disease

Wesson, Jane PenelopeORCID: 0000-0003-2702-6510 (2020) Sunshinevirus in Australian snakes: Investigating the link with disease. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis describes experiments undertaken to investigate the link between sunshinevirus virus and disease. Sunshinevirus was first discovered in a collection of Australian pythons that were euthanased because of a neurorespiratory disease outbreak. Cases of sunshinevirus infection, including chronic asymptomatic infections, have subsequently been detected throughout Australia by PCR testing, and the virus has been found in most Australian python species. There has been a documented association between sunshinevirus and disease, but no causal link had been proven. To investigate this link, and to provide information on viral transmission and pathogenesis, controlled experimental infection studies were undertaken.

Carpet pythons were directly inoculated with the virus and subsequently developed infection and neurorespiratory disease. The virus was reisolated from infected pythons. An uninfected python co-housed with an infected python also became infected and developed neurological signs of disease. This is consistent with natural transmission. Clinical signs and histopathology indicated a viral predilection for the central nervous system. Clinically, pythons showed evidence of disease in the cerebellum and/or brainstem and central vestibular system, as well as the spinal cord. Histologically, there was a non-suppurative encephalomyelitis, with the most consistent finding being vacuolation and gliosis in the brain. Pathological changes were also found in a wide range of other tissues. Cytoplasmic inclusions were found in a range of predominantly epithelial tissues. Infected pythons shed virus and were viraemic for several months. Several possible routes of horizontal transmission were identified, including cloacal-oral, oral-oral and via the circulatory system.

The experimental infection study proved a causal link between sunshinevirus and disease in carpet pythons. The dose of virus required to cause infection was not established and the python immune response to sunshinevirus infection remains unclear.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Veterinary Medicine
United Nations SDGs: Goal 15: Life on Land
Supervisor(s): Hyndman, Tim, O'Dea, Mark, Currie, Andrew, Bender, Hannah and Shilton, C.
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