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West Nile virus (WNV) causes significant mortality of American White Pelican chicks at northern plains colonies. We tested oropharyngeal/cloacal swabs from moribund chicks for shed WNV. Such shedding could enable chick-to-chick transmission and help explain why WNV spreads rapidly in colonies. WNV was detected on swabs from 11% of chicks in 2006 and 52% of chicks in 2007; however, viral titers were low. Before onset of WNV mortality, we tested blood from < 3-week-old chicks for antibodies to WNV; 5% of chicks were seropositive, suggesting passive transfer of maternal antibodies. Among near-fledged chicks, 41% tested positive for anti-WNV antibodies, indicating that they survived infection. Among years and colonies, cumulative incidence of WNV in chicks varied from 28% to 81%, whereas the proportion of chicks surviving WNV (i.e., seropositive) was 64–75%. Our data revealed that WNV kills chicks that likely would fledge in the absence of WNV, that infection of chicks is pervasive, and that significant numbers of chicks survive infection.
Financial support: This work was funded by the US Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center; the North Dakota Game and Fish Department; the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department; and federal funding through State Wildlife Grant T-27-R, Study 2427, administered through the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Authors' addresses: Marsha A. Sovada, Pamela J. Pietz, and Alisa J. Bartos, US Geological Survey, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND, E-mails: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Erik K. Hofmeister, US Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, Madison, WI, E-mail: email@example.com.