A retrospective serological survey for dengue immunity was conducted in Nigeria to determine the prevalence of infection in man and non-human primates. Preliminary haemagglutination-inhibition (HI) tests revealed that 63% of persons tested had HI antibodies against one or more of the following flaviviruses: dengue type 1, yellow fever, West Nile and Wesselsbron. Parallel HI and neutralization (N) tests on 179 human sera showed that six of 20 sera (30%) negative for flavivirus HI antibody contained dengue N antibody. This finding emphasized the advantage of the N test over HI in screening for dengue virus immunity. Neutralization tests performed on 1,816 human sera from different geographical locations in Nigeria showed that 45% of Nigerians were immune to dengue type 2 virus. The percentage of immunity in adults aged 20 years and older (51%) was significantly higher than in children (37%) (P < 0.01). In all four ecological zones sampled, the highest percentage of dengue N antibody was observed in the derived savannah zone (63%), followed by the rainforest zone (42%). The Southern Guinea savannah and plateau zones had lower percentages of dengue-immune persons. There was a higher prevalence of antibodies in urban (48%) than in rural communities (37%).

Tests on dengue-immune sera showed that 35% of such sera contained N antibodies to dengue only or to dengue and one other virus. Therefore, dengue immunity cannot be explained by heterologous cross reactions within the flavivirus group. In addition, evidence of dengue infection was found in monkeys and galagos. 48% of monkeys and 25% of galagos contained dengue N antibody. The presence of specific dengue N antibodies in a few sera suggests that the occurrence of a forest cycle of dengue is possible in Nigeria.

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