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Rubellavirus (RuV), the causative agent of human rubella (“German measles”), which has been known for more than 200 years, was long considered the only representative of the genus Rubivirus (family Matonaviridae). However, only recently novel rubiviruses have been identified in animals, suggesting a zoonotic origin of RuV. Rustrelavirus (RusV), first discovered in Germany, has been detected in zoo animals and domestic animals of different mammalian species with severe and often fatal non-suppurative encephalitis. The assumed reservoir hosts of RusV are mice of the genus Apodemus, in which the virus has also been detected at various locations in Germany.

Its relation to human RuV as well as the exceptionally broad host range of RusV result in the following questions which are to be answered within the framework of this project:

  • Does RusV possess a zoonotic potential and, hence, can it infect humans and cause encephalitis?
  • Is there any serological cross-reactivity, due to which immunity against RuV may provide cross-protection against other rubiviruses?

To answer these questions, different serological test systems for the detection of rubivirus-reactive and neutralizing antibodies will be established. Subsequently, these serological methods will be used to analyze cross-reactivity and cross-neutralization between RuV and RusV. Reference material will be generated by experimental RusV infection of mice. To detect possible spill-over infections in humans, samples from healthy blood donors as well as from patients with non-suppurative encephalitis of unnkown cause will be tested for RusV using serological and molecular methods.

The results of this pilot project as well as the newly established diagnostic methods will provide the basis for future studies and will allow an initial zoonotic risk assessment for RusV and other potentially novel rubiviruses.Those future projects will aim at the analysis of cross-protectivity in animal models as well as at investigating the distribution and spread of RusV in humans and animals in Germany.


PD Dr. Dennis Rubbenstroth
Institut für Virusdiagnostik

Greifswald - Insel Riems