The Ecology of Western Equine Encephalomyelitis Virus in the Central Valley of California, 1945–1985

James L. HardyDepartment of Biomedical and Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720

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Reeves' concept of the summer transmission cycle of western equine encephalomyelitis virus in 1945 was that the virus was amplified in a silent transmission cycle involving mosquitoes, domestic chickens, and possibly wild birds, from which it could be transmitted tangentially to and cause disease in human and equine populations. Extensive field and laboratory studies done since 1945 in the Central Valley of California have more clearly defined the specific invertebrate and vertebrate hosts involved in the basic virus transmission cycle, but the overall concept remains unchanged. The basic transmission cycle involves Culex tarsalis as the primary vector mosquito species and house finches and house sparrows as the primary amplifying hosts. Secondary amplifying hosts, upon which Cx. tarsalis frequently feeds, include other passerine species, chickens, and possibly pheasants in areas where they are abundant. Another transmission cycle that most likely is initiated from the Cx. tarsalis-wild bird cycle involves Aedes melanimon and the blacktail jackrabbit. Like humans and horses, California ground squirrels, western tree squirrels, and a few other wild mammal species become infected tangentially with the virus but do not contribute significantly to virus amplification.