Experimental infection of rock pigeons (Columba livia) with three West Nile virus lineage 1 strains isolated in Italy between 2009 and 2012

Epidemiol Infect. 2016 Apr;144(6):1301-11. doi: 10.1017/S0950268815002642. Epub 2015 Oct 23.


West Nile virus (WNV) circulation dynamics in the context of the urban environment is not yet elucidated. In this perspective, three groups of eight rock pigeons (Columbia livia) were inoculated with three WNV lineage 1 strains isolated in Italy between 2009 and 2012. The pigeons did not develop any clinical signs consistent with WNV acute infection. All animals seroconverted and shed virus up to 15 days post-infection by the oral or cloacal routes. In all infected groups viraemia lasted for 4 days post-infection. No WNV-specific gross or histological lesions were found in infected birds compared to control birds and immunohistochemistry remained constantly negative from all tissues. The reservoir competence index was also assessed and it ranged between 0·11 and 0·14. This study demonstrates that pigeons are competent reservoir hosts for Italian WNV lineage 1 circulating strains thus potentially posing a risk to the public health system.

Keywords: Pathology; West Nile virus; reservoir competence index (RCI); rock pigeon; viraemia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bird Diseases / virology*
  • Columbidae*
  • Disease Reservoirs / veterinary*
  • Disease Reservoirs / virology
  • Italy
  • Viremia / veterinary*
  • Viremia / virology
  • West Nile Fever / veterinary*
  • West Nile Fever / virology
  • West Nile virus / physiology*