Geographic Variation among St. Louis Encephalitis Virus Strains in the Viremic Responses of Avian Hosts

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  • Vector-Borne Diseases Division, Bureau of Laboratories, Center for Disease Control, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Post Office Box 2087, Fort Collins, Colorado 80522

We studied the capacity of 44 strains of St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) virus to induce viremia in an epidemiologically important wild avian host, the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). Selected virus strains were also inoculated at varying doses into 3-week-old chicks. Viremic responses were analyzed in terms of the proportion of inoculated nestling and adult birds which became viremic, the mean duration and the mean peak titer of viremia. Infectivity of avian sera was determined by plaque assay in primary duck embryo cell cultures. The susceptibility of the House Sparrow to viremic infection with different SLE virus strains varied markedly. Nestling sparrows 6–10 days of age were generally more susceptible than adult birds. All virus strains isolated during Culex pipiens-borne epidemics in the eastern United States were highly viremogenic [viremia in 80% of birds with a mean duration of ⩾1.6 days in adults or ⩾2.7 days in nestlings and a mean peak titer of ⩾103.0 plaque-forming units (PFU)/ml in adults and 104.0 PFU/ml in nestlings]. All virus strains isolated from Culex tarsalis in the western United States, strains isolated from rodents in South America. and six of 16 strains isolated from various sources elsewhere in tropical America were partially or fully attenuated. A high degree of concordance was demonstrated between experimental viremia in sparrows, viremia in 3-week-old chicks, and neurovirulence for weanling mice. The epidemiologic significance of these findings is discussed.

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