Persistence of Mosquito-Borne Viruses in Kern County, California, 1983–1988

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  • Arbovirus Research Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California

The persistence of arboviruses was studied from 1983 to 1988 in mixed agriculture, marsh, riparian, and foothill habitats in Kern County, CA. Western equine encephalomyelitis (WEE) virus was isolated frequently during 1983 from Culex tarsalis and Aedes melanimon and was detected by the seroconversion of sentinel chickens. WEE virus then disappeared, even though vector competence studies during 1984–1986 showed that Cx. tarsalis was able to transmit WEE virus. St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) virus was detected sporadically in 3 of the 6 years of the study by isolation from Cx. tarsalis and/or by sentinel chicken seroconversion. When mosquito pools were screened for virus in suckling mice, Turlock (TUR) and Hart Park (HP) viruses were isolated from Cx. tarsalis during each summer. Vertical transmission of HP was indicated by the isolation of virus from a pool of male Cx. tarsalis. California encephalitis (CE) virus was isolated repeatedly from host-seeking Ae. melanimon females, males, and adults reared from field-collected immatures, verifying vertical transmission in nature. Horizontal transmission of CE virus among both jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) and desert cottontails (Sylvilagus auduboni) appeared to amplify Ae. melanimon infection rates during the summer of 1985, but elevated herd immunity depressed infection rates during 1986. Thus, CE, HP, and TUR viruses persisted in Kern County, while WEE virus appeared to become extinct and required reintroduction. The sporadic occurrence of SLE virus activity remains unexplained, but its persistence may require both vertical transmission and reintroduction.