In the fall of 1999, West Nile virus (WNV) was isolated for the first time in the Western Hemisphere during an outbreak of neurologic disease in humans, horses, and wild and zoo birds in the northeastern United States. Chickens are a potential reservoir for WNV, and little is known about the pathogenicity of WNV in domestic chickens. Seven-week-old chickens derived from a specific-pathogen-free flock were inoculated subcutaneously with 1.8 x 10(3) 50% tissue culture infectious dose of a crow isolate of WNV in order to observe clinical signs and evaluate the viremic phase, gross and microscopic lesions, contact transmission, and immunologic response. There were no observable clinical signs in the WNV-inoculated chickens during the 21-day observation period. However, histopathologic examination of tissues revealed myocardial necrosis, nephritis, and pneumonitis at 5 and 10 days postinoculation (DPI); moderate to severe nonsuppurative encephalitis also was observed in brain tissue from one of four inoculated birds examined at 21 DPI. WNV was recovered from blood plasma for up to 8 DPI. Virus titers as high as 10(5)/ml in plasma were observed at 4 DPI. Fecal shedding of virus was detected in cloacal swabs on 4 and 5 DPI only. The WNV also was isolated from myocardium, spleen, kidney, lung, and intestine collected from chickens euthanatized at 3, 5, and 10 DPI. No virus was isolated from inoculated chickens after 10 DPI. Antibodies specific to WNV were detected in inoculated chickens as early as 5 DPI by the plaque reduction neutralization test and 7 DPI by the indirect fluorescent antibody test. Chickens placed in contact with inoculated chickens at 1 DPI lacked WNV-specific antibodies, and no WNV was isolated from their blood plasma or cloacal swabs throughout the 21 days of the experiment.