Bluetongue caused by the genotype 8 virus (BTV-8) appeared for the first time in BTV free areas in northern Italy in 2008. The presence of domestic animals outbreaks, abundant wild ungulates populations, and ongoing regional BTV control plans, made this area interesting to evaluate the role of wild ruminants in BTV-8 epidemiology. We analyzed spleen samples from hunted red deer (Cervus elaphus), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) by quantitative RT-PCR. Samples were collected from 2008 to 2011 in two provinces of Piedmont region. BTV-8 was detected in all ungulate species, confirming their receptivity to the infection. However, the viral load in the positive specimens was low, and decreased from 2008 to 2011. These results, together with the extinction of the epidemic following a regional livestock vaccination campaign, lead to hypothesize that wild ungulates were an epiphenomenon and they had not an important role in the domestic transmission cycle of BTV-8 in this area. In spite of this, wild ruminants appear to be good sentinels of BTV circulation and their monitoring could be useful for surveillance in piedmont areas.
Wild ungulates as sentinel of BTV-8 infection in piedmont areas