In temperate climates, transmission of West Nile virus (WNV) is detectable rarely during the coldest months (late fall through early spring), yet the virus has reappeared consistently during the next warm season. Several mechanisms may contribute to WNV persistence through winter, including bird-to-bird transmission among highly viremic species. Here we consider whether, under realistic scenarios supported by field and laboratory evidence, a winter bird community could sustain WNV through the winter in the absence of mosquitoes. With this purpose we constructed a deterministic model for a community of susceptible birds consisting of communally roosting crows, raptors and other birds. We simulated WNV introduction and subsequent transmission dynamics during the winter under realistic initial conditions and model parameterizations, including plausible contact rates for roosting crows. Model results were used to determine whether the bird community could yield realistic outbreaks that would result in WNV infectious individuals at the end of the winter, which would set up the potential for onward horizontal transmission into summer. Our findings strongly suggest that winter crow roosts could allow for WNV persistence through the winter, and our model results provide synthesis to explain inconclusive results from field studies on WNV overwintering in crow roosts.
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