Background: Wildlife rehabilitation centers routinely gather health-related data from diverse species. Their capability to signal the occurrence of emerging pathogens and improve traditional surveillance remains largely unexplored. This paper assessed the utility for syndromic surveillance of raptors admitted to The Raptor Center (TRC) to signal circulation of West Nile Virus (WNV) in Minnesota between 1990 and 2014. An exhaustive descriptive analysis using grouping time series structures and models of interrupted times series was conducted for indicator subsets.
Results: A total of 13,080 raptors were monitored. The most representative species were red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, Cooper's hawks, American kestrels and bald eagles. Results indicated that temporal patterns of accessions at the TRC changed distinctively after the incursion of WNV in 2002. The frequency of hawks showing WNV-like signs increased almost 3 times during July and August, suggesting that monitoring of hawks admitted to TRC with WNV-like signs could serve as an indicator of WNV circulation. These findings were also supported by the results of laboratory diagnosis.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that monitoring of data routinely collected by wildlife rehabilitation centers has the potential to signal the spread of pathogens that may affect wild, domestic animals and humans, thus supporting the early detection of disease incursions in a region and monitoring of disease trends. Ultimately, data collected in rehabilitation centers may provide insights to efficiently allocate financial and human resources on disease prevention and surveillance.
Keywords: Big data; Raptors; Syndromic surveillance; Time series; West Nile; Wildlife rehabilitation.