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The Journal of general virology

Serological evidence of West Nile virus, Usutu virus and Sindbis virus infection of birds in the UK.


PMID 13679615

Abstract

The introduction and rapid dispersal of the African flavivirus West Nile virus (WNV) throughout North America, and the high fatality rate due to encephalitis in birds, horses, other wildlife species and humans, has attracted major attention worldwide. Usutu virus, another flavivirus, came to prominence in 2001, when it was identified as the agent responsible for a drop in the bird population in Austria; previously this encephalitic virus was found only in birds and mosquitoes in Africa. Sindbis virus, a pathogenic alphavirus that causes arthritis, is widespread throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia, infecting a range of arthropods and vertebrates and is genetically related to encephalitic viruses in North America. Currently there is no evidence that any of these viruses cause disease in the UK. Here the presence of virus-specific neutralizing antibodies is reported in the sera of resident and migrant birds in the UK, implying that each of these viruses is being introduced to UK birds, possibly by mosquitoes. This is supported by nucleotide sequencing that identified three slightly different sequences of WNV RNA in tissues of magpies and a blackbird. The detection of specific neutralizing antibodies to WNV in birds provides a plausible explanation for the lack of evidence of a decrease in the bird population in the UK compared with North America. The potential health risk posed to humans and animals by these viruses circulating in the UK is discussed.