Introduction of West Nile virus in the Middle East by migrating white storks

Emerg Infect Dis. 2002 Apr;8(4):392-7. doi: 10.3201/eid0804.010217.


West Nile virus (WNV) was isolated in a flock of 1,200 migrating white storks that landed in Eilat, a town in southern Israel, on August 26, 1998. Strong, hot westerly winds had forced the storks to fly under considerable physical stress before reaching the agricultural land surrounding the town. Most of the flock were fledglings, <1 year old, which had hatched in Europe. Thirteen dead or dying storks were collected 2 days after arrival and submitted to the laboratory for examination. Four WNV isolates were obtained from their brains. Out of 11 storks tested six days after arrival, three had WNV-neutralizing antibodies. Comparative analysis of full-length genomic sequences of a stork isolate and a 1999 flamingo isolate from the USA showed 28 nucleotide (nt) (0.25%) and 10 amino acid (0.3%) changes. Sequence analysis of the envelope gene of the stork isolate showed almost complete identity with isolates from Israeli domestic geese in 1998 and 1999 and from a nonmigrating, white-eyed gull in 1999. Since these storks were migrating southwards for the first time and had not flown over Israel, we assume that they had become infected with WNV at some point along their route of migration in Europe.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • Base Sequence
  • Bird Diseases / transmission*
  • Bird Diseases / virology*
  • Birds / immunology
  • Birds / virology*
  • Brain / virology
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Disease Vectors*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Flight, Animal
  • Israel / epidemiology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neutralization Tests
  • Sequence Analysis, Protein
  • Vero Cells
  • West Nile Fever / epidemiology
  • West Nile Fever / transmission*
  • West Nile Fever / virology
  • West Nile virus / genetics
  • West Nile virus / immunology
  • West Nile virus / isolation & purification*


  • Antibodies, Viral