Two recent cases of human infection with Tonate virus, one of which was a fatal case of encephalitis, have renewed interest in these viruses in French Guiana.
The clinical aspects of confirmed and probable cases of infection with this virus indicate that it has pathogenic properties in humans similar to those of other viruses of the Venezuelan equine encephalitis complex.
To determine the prevalence of antibodies to Tonate virus in the various ethnic groups and areas of French Guiana, 3,516 human sera were tested with a hemagglutination inhibition test.
Of these, 11.9% were positive for the virus, but significant differences in seroprevalence were found by age, with an increase with age.
After adjustment for age, significant differences were found between places of residence. The prevalence of antibody to Tonate virus was higher in savannah areas, especially in the Bas Maroni (odds ratio [OR] = 22.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 15.2-32.4) and Bas Oyapock areas (OR = 13.4; 95% CI = 9.8-18.4).
The ethnic differences observed in this study were due mainly to differences in place of residence, except that whites were significantly less frequently infected than other ethnic groups.
This study indicates that Tonate virus infection is highly prevalent in French Guiana, especially in savannah areas.