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Prevalence and Pathology of West Nile Virus in Naturally Infected House Sparrows, Western Nebraska, 2008

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  • Department of Biological Sciences, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma; U.S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, Madison, Wisconsin; Center for Vectorborne Diseases, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, California

Nestling birds are rarely sampled in the field for most arboviruses, yet they may be important in arbovirus amplification cycles. We sampled both nestling and adult house sparrows (Passer domesticus) in western Nebraska for West Nile virus (WNV) or WNV-specific antibodies throughout the summer of 2008 and describe pathology in naturally infected nestlings. Across the summer, 4% of nestling house sparrows were WNV-positive; for the month of August alone, 12.3% were positive. Two WNV-positive nestlings exhibited encephalitis, splenomegaly, hepatic necrosis, nephrosis, and myocarditis. One nestling sparrow had large mural thrombi in the atria and ventricle and immunohistochemical staining of WNV antigen in multiple organs including the wall of the aorta and pulmonary artery; cardiac insufficiency thus may have been a cause of death. Adult house sparrows showed an overall seroprevalence of 13.8% that did not change significantly across the summer months. The WNV-positive nestlings and the majority of seropositive adults were detected within separate spatial clusters. Nestling birds, especially those reared late in the summer when WNV activity is typically greatest, may be important in virus amplification.

Author Notes

*Address correspondence to Valerie A. O'Brien, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Oklahoma State University, 127 Noble Research Center, Stillwater, OK 74078. E-mail: valerie.obrien@okstate.edu

Financial support: This work was funded by NIH grant AI057569 and NSF grant DEB-0514824 (to CRB) and NIH grant AI55607 (to WKR).

Authors' addresses: Valerie A. O'Brien, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, E-mail: valerie.obrien@okstate.edu. Charles R. Brown, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OK, E-mail: charles-brown@utulsa.edu. Carol U. Meteyer and Hon S. Ip, U.S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, Madison, WI, E-mails: cmeteyer@usgs.gov and hip@usgs.gov. William K. Reisen, Center for Vectorborne Diseases, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA, E-mail: arbo123@pacbell.net.

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