Pathogenesis of West Nile virus lineage 1 and 2 in experimentally infected large falcons

Ute Ziegler, Joke Angenvoort, Dominik Fischer, Christine Fast, Martin Eiden, Ariel V. Rodriguez, Sandra Revilla-Fernández, Norbert Nowotny, Jorge García de la Fuente, Michael Lierz, Martin H. Groschup*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


West Nile virus (WNV) is a zoonotic flavivirus that is transmitted by blood-suckling mosquitoes with birds serving as the primary vertebrate reservoir hosts (enzootic cycle). Some bird species like ravens, raptors and jays are highly susceptible and develop deadly encephalitis while others are infected subclinically only. Birds of prey are highly susceptible and show substantial mortality rates following infection. To investigate the WNV pathogenesis in falcons we inoculated twelve large falcons, 6 birds per group, subcutaneously with viruses belonging to two different lineages (lineage 1 strain NY 99 and lineage 2 strain Austria). Three different infection doses were utilized: low (approx. 500 TCID50), intermediate (approx. 4 log10 TCID50) and high (approx. 6 log10 TCID50). Clinical signs were monitored during the course of the experiments lasting 14 and 21 days. All falcons developed viremia for two weeks and shed virus for almost the same period of time. Using quantitative real-time RT-PCR WNV was detected in blood, in cloacal and oropharyngeal swabs and following euthanasia and necropsy of the animals in a variety of neuronal and extraneuronal organs. Antibodies to WNV were first time detected by ELISA and neutralization assay after 6 days post infection (dpi). Pathological findings consistently included splenomegaly, non-suppurative myocarditis, meningoencephalitis and vasculitis. By immunohistochemistry WNV-antigens were demonstrated intralesionally. These results impressively illustrate the devastating and possibly deadly effects of WNV infection in falcons, independent of the genetic lineage and dose of the challenge virus used. Due to the relatively high virus load and long duration of viremia falcons may also be considered competent WNV amplifying hosts, and thus may play a role in the transmission cycle of this zoonotic virus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-273
Number of pages11
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Jan 25 2013


  • Experimental infection
  • Falcons
  • Flavivirus
  • WNV lineage 1 and 2
  • West Nile virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • General Veterinary


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