Avian Hosts of St. Louis Encephalitis Virus in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1991

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  • Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jefferson County Health Department, Fort Collins, Colorado

An investigation of the extent of St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) virus activity in the avian population in Pine Bluff, Arkansas was conducted from August 30, 1991 through September 5, 1991, following an SLE epidemic that resulted in 25 human cases. A total of 363 birds of 33 species were captured with ground-level mist nets at four sites along the northern edge of the city. No viruses were isolated from the serum of these birds, but 91 birds (25%) of 11 species had detectable neutralizing antibody against the TBH-28 strain of SLE virus in the constant-virus, serum-dilution, plaque-reduction neutralization test in Vero cell culture. No antibody to eastern equine encephalitis virus was detected. The prevalence of antibody to SLE virus varied among the sites from 11% to 44%, but the prevalence at each site was influenced by the avian species composition. The two most abundant species captured in the city, the American robin (43%) and house sparrow (42%), also had the highest prevalence of antibody. Nine other bird species were serologically positive but at significantly lower rates than for the abundant species. The antibody prevalence was higher in immature birds (27%) than in adult birds (15%), but the antibody titers were higher in adult birds than in immature ones. The overall SLE antibody prevalence and the prevalence for house sparrows were significantly higher than the average prevalence for avian hosts studied during previous SLE epidemics. Therefore, house sparrows would be a good choice for a local sentinel species.