Vector-Borne Diseases Division, Bureau of Laboratories, Center for Disease Control, Public Health Service, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Post Office Box 2087, Fort Collins, Colorado 80522
Rocio encephalitis is a new epidemic flaviviral infection of man, first described in São Paulo State, Brazil in 1975. The ecology of the viral transmission cycle remains largely unknown. Experimental studies were undertaken to assess the role of a wild avian species, the House Sparrow, as a maintenance or amplifying host. Approximately two-thirds of nestling and adult sparrows developed 2- to 3-day viremias of low to moderate magnitude (2.0–4.3 log/ml). Rocio-immune birds were not protected against challenge with St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) virus, but prior SLE viral infection prevented detectable viremia in birds challenged with Rocio virus. These studies provide some support for the hypothesis that birds are hosts for Rocio virus, but the House Sparrow probably plays a relatively minor role in viral transmission. Because sparrows are relatively inefficient viremic hosts, they would be expected to play a minor role in transmission should Rocio virus be introduced into the United States.