West Nile virus in livestock and wildlife

Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2002;267:271-308. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-59403-8_14.


WN virus is one of the most ubiquitous arboviruses occurring over a broad geographical range and in a wide diversity of vertebrate host and vector species. The virus appears to be maintained in endemic foci on the African continent and is transported annually to temperate climates to the north in Europe and to the south in South Africa. Reports of clinical disease due to natural WN virus infection in wild or domestic animals were much less common than reports of infection (virus isolation or antibody detection). Until recently, records of morbidity and mortality in wild birds were confined to a small number of cases and infections causing encephalitis, sometimes fatal, in horses were reported infrequently. In the period 1996-2001, there was an increase in outbreaks of illness due to WN virus in animals as well as humans. Within the traditional range of WN virus, encephalitis was reported in horses in Italy in 1998 and in France in 2000. The first report of disease and deaths caused by WN virus infection in domestic birds was reported in Israel in 1997-1999, involving hundreds of young geese. In 1999 WN virus reached North America and caused an outbreak of encephalitis in humans in the New York area at the same time as a number of cases of equine encephalitis and deaths in American crows and a variety of other bird species, both North American natives and exotics. Multi-state surveillance for WN virus has been in place since April 2000 and has resulted in the detection of WN virus in thousands of dead birds from an increasing number of species in North America, and also in several species of mammals. The surveillance system that has developed in North America because of the utility of testing dead birds for the rapid detection of WN virus presence has been a unique integration of public health and wildlife health agencies. It has been suggested that the recent upsurge in clinical WN virus infection in wild and domestic animals as well as in humans may be related to the emergence of one or more new strains of WN virus. Virus isolated in New York in 1999 was found to be identical to that from Israel. It was alarming for WN virus to so easily invade the United States and surprising that it became established so quickly in the temperature climate of New York. Its persistence and rapid expansion in the United States leave a number of unanswered questions. New disease characteristics and patterns have occurred and more are evolving as WN virus further invades the western hemisphere. Additional animal research is needed to answer these questions. Some of the research needs include bird migration as a mechanism of virus dispersal, vector and vertebrate host relationships, virus persistence mechanisms, laboratory diagnosis, viral pathogenesis, risk factor studies, vaccine development, and WN virus impact on wildlife (CDC 2001a). Determination of the primary reservoir host species that are involved in the epidemiology of WN virus and the suitable sentinel species for active surveillance are also important research areas.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / virology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic / virology*
  • Animals, Wild / virology*
  • Birds / virology
  • Disease Outbreaks / veterinary
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Ecosystem
  • Horse Diseases / etiology
  • Horses / virology
  • Humans
  • Insect Control
  • Mammals / virology
  • Population Surveillance
  • Reptiles / virology
  • West Nile Fever / etiology
  • West Nile Fever / veterinary*
  • West Nile virus / isolation & purification*
  • West Nile virus / pathogenicity*