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Arch Virol. 2005 Apr;150(4):637-57. Epub 2005 Jan 19.

West Nile virus in the vertebrate world.

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  • 1Laboratory of Virology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Merelbeke, Belgium.


West Nile virus (WNV), an arthropod-borne virus belonging to the family Flaviviridae, had been recognized in Africa, Asia and the south of Europe for many decades. Only recently, it has been associated with an increasing number of outbreaks of encephalitis in humans and equines as well as an increasing number of infections in vertebrates of a wide variety of species. In this article, the data available on the incidence of WNV in vertebrates are reviewed. Moreover, the role of vertebrates in the transmission of WNV, the control of WNV infections in veterinary medicine as well as future perspectives are discussed. A wide variety of vertebrates, including more than 150 bird species and at least 30 other vertebrate species, are susceptible to WNV infection. The outcome of infection depends on the species, the age of the animal, its immune status and the pathogenicity of the WNV isolate. WNV infection of various birds, especially passeriforms, but also of young chickens and domestic geese, results in high-titred viremia that allows arthropod-borne transmission. For other vertebrate species, only lemurs, lake frogs and hamsters develop suitable viremia levels to support arthropod-borne transmission. The role of vertebrates in direct, non-arthropod-borne transmission, such as via virus-contaminated organs, tissues or excretions is less well characterized. Even though direct transmission can occur among vertebrates of several species, data are lacking on the exact amounts of infectious virus needed. Finally, the increased importance of WNV infections has led to the development of killed, live-attenuated, DNA-recombinant and chimeric veterinary vaccines.

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