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Supersuppression: Reservoir Competency and Timing of Mosquito Host Shifts Combine to Reduce Spillover of West Nile Virus

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  • 1 Department of Environmental Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.
  • | 2 Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, Athens, Georgia.
  • | 3 Department of Entomology, Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.
  • | 4 Office of Environmental Services, Georgia Department of Transportation, Atlanta, Georgia.
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In the eastern United States, human cases of West Nile virus (WNV) result from spillover from urban epizootic transmission between passerine birds and Culex mosquitoes. In Atlanta, GA, substantial WNV presence in hosts and vectors has not resulted in the human disease burden observed in cities with similar infection pressure. Our study goal was to investigate extrinsic ecological conditions that potentially contribute to these reduced transmission rates. We conducted WNV surveillance among hosts and vectors in urban Atlanta and recorded an overall avian seroprevalence of nearly 30%, which was significantly higher among northern cardinals, blue jays, and members of the mimid family, and notably low among American robins. Examination of temporal Culex feeding patterns showed a marked feeding shift from American robins in the early season to northern cardinals in the late season. We therefore rule out American robins as superspreaders in the Atlanta area and suggest instead that northern cardinals and mimids act as WNV “supersuppressor” species, which slow WNV transmission by drawing many infectious bites during the critical virus amplification period, yet failing to amplify transmission due to low host competencies. Of particular interest, urban forest patches provide spillover protection by increasing the WNV amplification fraction on supersuppressor species.

Author Notes

* Address correspondence to Rebecca S. Levine, Department of Environmental Sciences, Emory University, 400 Dowman Drive, Math and Science Center 5th Floor, Suite E510, Atlanta, GA 30322. E-mail: rclevin@alum.emory.edu

Financial support: Funding for this research was provided by National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grant 5T32AI055404-08 (L. Real, PI), Emory University Department of Environmental Science, and University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS).

Authors' addresses: Rebecca S. Levine, Berry J. Brosi, Joseph R. McMillan, Donal Bisanzio, and Uriel D. Kitron, Department of Environmental Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, E-mails: rclevin@alum.emory.edu, bbrosi@emory.edu, jrmcmil@emory.edu, dbisanzio@zoo.ox.ac.uk, and ukitron@emory.edu. Daniel G. Mead, Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, Athens, GA, E-mail: dmead@uga.edu. Gabriel L. Hamer, Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College Station, TX, E-mail: ghamer@tamu.edu. David L. Hedeen and Meghan W. Hedeen, Office of Environmental Services, Georgia Department of Transportation, Atlanta, GA, E-mails: chrysoptera@yahoo.com and meghedeen@gmail.com.

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