Explaining Usutu virus dynamics in Austria: Model development and calibration

Franz Rubel*, Katharina Brugger, Michael Hantel, Sonja Chvala-Mannsberger, Tamás Bakonyi, Herbert Weissenböck, Norbert Nowotny

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Usutu virus (USUV), a flavivirus of the Japanese encephalitis virus complex, was for the first time detected outside Africa in the region around Vienna (Austria) in 2001 by Weissenböck et al. [Weissenböck, H., Kolodziejek, J., Url, A., Lussy, H., Rebel-Bauder, B., Nowotny, N., 2002. Emergence of Usutu virus, an African mosquito-borne flavivirus of the Japanese encephalitis virus group, central Europe. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 8, 652-656]. USUV is an arthropod-borne virus (arbovirus) circulating between arthropod vectors (mainly mosquitoes of the Culex pipiens complex) and avian amplification hosts. Infections of mammalian hosts or humans, as observed for the related West Nile virus (WNV), are rare. However, USUV infection leads to a high mortality in birds, especially blackbirds (Turdus merula), and has similar dynamics with the WNV in North America, which, amongst others, caused mortality in American robins (Turdus migratorius). We hypothesized that the transmission of USUV is determined by an interaction of developing proportion of the avian hosts immune and climatic factors affecting the mosquito population. This mechanism is implemented into the present model that simulates the seasonal cycles of mosquito and bird populations as well as USUV cross-infections. Observed monthly climate data are specified for the temperature-dependent development rates of the mosquitoes as well as the temperature-dependent extrinsic-incubation period. Our model reproduced the observed number of dead birds in Austria between 2001 and 2005, including the peaks in the relevant years. The high number of USUV cases in 2003 seems to be a response to the early beginning of the extraordinary hot summer in that year. The predictions indicate that >70% of the bird population acquired immunity, but also that the percentage would drop rapidly within only a couple of years. We estimated annually averaged basic reproduction numbers between over(R, ̄)0 = 0.54 (2004) and 1.35 (2003). Finally, extrapolation from our model suggests that only 0.2% of the blackbirds killed by USUV were detected by the Austrian USUV monitoring program [Chvala, S., Bakonyi, T., Bukovsky, C., Meister, T., Brugger, K., Rubel, F., Nowotny, N., Weissenböck, H., 2007. Monitoring of Usutu virus activity and spread by using dead bird surveillance in Austria, 2003-2005. Vet. Microbiol. 122, 237-245]. These results suggest that the model presented is able to quantitatively describe the process of USUV dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-186
Number of pages21
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Basic reproduction number
  • Climate forcing
  • Culex pipiens
  • Epidemic model
  • Infectious disease
  • SIR model
  • Seasons
  • Usutu virus
  • West Nile virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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