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10.1371/ journal.pone.0116722


Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) is a formidable pathogen that causes severe disease and abortion in a variety of livestock species and a range of disease in humans that includes hemorrhagic fever, fulminant hepatitis, encephalitis and blindness. The natural transmission cycle involves mosquito vectors, but exposure can also occur through contact with infected fluids and tissues. The lack of approved antiviral therapies and vaccines for human use underlies the importance of small animal models for proof-of-concept efficacy studies. Several mouse and rat models of RVFV infection have been well characterized and provide useful systems for the study of certain aspects of pathogenesis, as well as antiviral drug and vaccine development. However, certain host-directed therapeutics may not act on mouse or rat pathways. Here, we describe the natural history of disease in golden Syrian hamsters challenged subcutaneously with the pathogenic ZH501 strain of RVFV. Peracute disease resulted in rapid lethality within 2 to 3 days of RVFV challenge. High titer viremia and substantial viral loads were observed in most tissues examined; however, histopathology and immunostaining for RVFV antigen were largely restricted to the liver. Acute hepatocellular necrosis associated with a strong presence of viral antigen in the hepatocytes indicates that fulminant hepatitis is the likely cause of mortality. Further studies to assess the susceptibility and disease progression following respiratory route exposure are warranted. The use of the hamsters to model RVFV infection is suitable for early stage antiviral drug and vaccine development studies.

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