Persistent West Nile virus transmission and the apparent displacement St. Louis encephalitis virus in Southeastern California, 2003-2006

William Reisen, Hugh D. Lothrop, Sarah S. Wheeler, Marc Kennsington, Arturo Gutierrez, Ying Fang, Sandra Garcia, Branka Lothrop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


West Nile virus (family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus, WNV) invaded the Colorado Desert biome of southern California during summer 2003 and seemed to displace previously endemic St. Louis encephalitis virus (family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus, SLEV, an antigenically similar Flavivirus in the Japanese encephalitis virus serocomplex). Western equine encephalomyelitis virus (family Togaviridae, genus Alphavirus, WEEV), an antigenically distinct Alphavirus, was detected during 2005 and 2006, indicating that conditions were suitable for encephalitis virus introduction and detection. Cross-protective "avian herd immunity" due to WNV infection possibly may have prevented SLEV reintroduction and/or amplification to detectable levels. During 2003-2006, WNV was consistently active at wetlands and agricultural habitats surrounding the Salton Sea where Culex tarsalis Coquillett served as the primary enzootic maintenance and amplification vector. Based on published laboratory infection studies and the current seroprevalence estimates, house sparrows, house finches, and several Ardeidae may have been important avian amplifying hosts in this region. Transmission efficiency may have been dampened by high infection rates in incompetent avian hosts, including Gamble's quail, mourning doves, common ground doves, and domestic pigeons. Early season WNV amplification and dispersal from North Shore in the southeastern portion of the Coachella Valley resulted in sporadic WNV incursions into the urbanized Upper Valley near Palm Springs, where Culex pipiens quinquefasciatus Say was the primary enzootic and bridge vector. Although relatively few human cases were detected during the 2003-2006 period, all were concentrated in the Upper Valley and were associated with high human population density and WNV infection in peridomestic populations of Cx. p. quinquefasciatus. Intensive early mosquito control during 2006 seemed to interrupt and delay transmission, perhaps setting the stage for the future reintroduction of SLEV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)494-508
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Medical Entomology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2008


  • Culex pipiens quinquefasciatus
  • Culex tarsalis
  • St. Louis encephalitis virus
  • West Nile virus
  • Western equine encephalomyelitis virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • veterinary(all)
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases


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