Avian host and mosquito (Diptera: Culicidae) vector competence determine the efficiency of West Nile and St. Louis encephalitis virus transmission

William Reisen, Y. Fang, V. M. Martinez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

208 Scopus citations


The ability of the invading NY99 strain of West Nile virus (WNV) to elicit an elevated viremia response in California passerine birds was critical for the effective infection of Culex mosquitoes. Of the bird species tested, Western scrub jays, Aphelocoma coerulescens, produced the highest viremia response, followed by house finches, Carpodacus mexicanus, and house sparrows, Passer domesticus. Most likely, few mourning, Zenaidura macroura, or common ground, Columbina passerine, doves and no California quail, Callipepla californica, or chickens would infect blood-feeding Culex mosquitoes. All Western scrub jays and most house finches succumbed to infection. All avian hosts produced a lower viremia response and survived after infection with an endemic strain of St. Louis encephalitis virus. Culex species varied in their susceptibility to infection with both viruses, with Culex stigmatosoma Dyar generally most susceptible, followed by Culex tarsalis Coquillett, and then Culex p. quinquefasciatus Say. Populations within Culex species varied markedly in their susceptibility, perhaps contributing to the focality of WNV amplification. Transmitting female Cx. tarsalis expectorated from six to 3,777 plaque-forming units (PFU) of WNV during transmission trials, thereby exposing avian hosts to a wide range of infectious doses. Highly susceptible house finches and moderately susceptible mourning doves were infected by subcutaneous inoculation with decreasing concentrations of WNV ranging from 15,800 to <0.3 PFU. All birds became infected and produced comparable peak viremias on days 2-3 postinoculation; however, the rise in viremia titer and onset of the acute phase of infection occurred earliest in birds inoculated with the highest doses. WNV virulence in birds seemed critical in establishing elevated viremias necessary to efficiently infect blood feeding Culex mosquitoes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-375
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Medical Entomology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2005


  • Avian host competence
  • Mosquito vector competence
  • St. Louis encephalitis virus
  • Transmission
  • West Nile virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • veterinary(all)


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