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To determine whether West Nile virus (WNV) persistent infection in avian hosts may potentially serve as an overwintering mechanism, House Sparrows and House Finches, experimentally and naturally infected with several strains of WNV, and two naturally infected Western Scrub-Jays were held in mosquito-proof outdoor aviaries from 2007–March 2008. Overall, 94% (n = 36) of House Sparrows, 100% (n = 14) of House Finches and 2 Western Scrub-Jays remained WNV antibody positive. When combined by species, 37% of the House Sparrows, 50% of the House Finches, and 2 Western Scrub-Jays were WNV RNA positive at necropsy, up to 36 weeks post-infection. Infectious WNV was not detected. Our study supports the hypothesis that some avian hosts support the long-term persistence of WNV RNA, but it remains unresolved whether these infections relapse to restart an avian-arthropod transmission cycle and thereby serve as an overwintering mechanism for WNV.
Financial support: This study was supported by research grant R01-A155607 from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, and a grant from the University of California Mosquito Research Program. W. K. Reisen was supported by the Research and Policy for Infectious Disease Dynamics program of the Science and Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security, and Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health.
Authors' addresses: Sarah S. Wheeler, Stanley A. Langevin, Brian D. Carroll, and William K. Reisen, Center for Vectorborne Diseases and Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology, University of California, Davis, CA, E-mails: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com. Aaron C. Brault, Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fort Collins, CO, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Leslie Woods, California Agriculture and Food Safety Laboratory, Davis, CA, E-mail: email@example.com. William K. Reisen, Center for Vectorborne Diseases and Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology, University of California, Davis, CA, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.