Investigations of the Vertebrate Hosts of Eastern Equine Encephalitis during an Epizootic in Michigan, 1980

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  • * Division of Vector-Borne Viral Diseases, Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services, P.O. Box 2087, Fort Collins, Colorado 80522
  • Michigan Department of Public Health, 3500 N. Logan Street, Lansing, Michigan 48909
  • Division of Viral Diseases, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, Georgia
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A study was undertaken to investigate an increase in reported cases of clinical encephalitis due to eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus in horses and to determine the natural vertebrate hosts of that virus. Horses, birds, and small mammals were sampled at sites in a contiguous area in St. Joseph and Kalamazoo counties, Michigan, from 25 August to 5 September 1980.

Serum samples from four horses acutely ill with encephalitis and 16 of 39 pasture mates of ill horses had neutralizing (N) antibody against EEE virus (46.5%); no viruses were isolated from these 43 sera. None of 24 draft horses from a site in St. Joseph County 12 km southeast of the affected sites had EEE antibody. A strain of Cache Valley virus was isolated from the blood of one of the 24 draft horses.

No viruses were isolated, and no antibodies to EEE virus were detected in 28 blood samples from small mammals captured at sites where equine cases of encephalitis were occurring. Six strains of EEE virus, five of Highlands J virus, and one of Flanders virus were isolated from the blood of 401 wild birds belonging to 42 species captured at eight sites in both counties. A total of 29.9% of the wild birds had EEE antibody. Five species of domestic birds, mostly chickens and ring-necked pheasants, were sampled in both counties. Six strains of EEE virus were isolated from 152 ring-necked pheasants; these included three isolates from the brains of dead birds. About 13% of 51 pheasants tested from two small flocks in backyard pens in Kalamazoo County and 9% of 103 pheasants tested from a large game farm in St. Joseph County had antibody to EEE virus.

The source of the EEE virus and the factors responsible for this epizootic are unknown; however, the epizootic probably represented an explosive expansion of an enzootic level of virus transmission.