West Nile Virus infections detected in
18 July 2003
A paper in the Journal of General Virology today reveals that evidence of West Nile virus infections has been found in birds in Britain, according to a team of scientists led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) at Oxford. There are no known cases of human infection and no disease reported in birds.
Dr Ernie Gould and colleagues believe that West Nile virus is present and being effectively transmitted between resident and migratory birds. This is the first time active transmission of the virus has been reported in the UK.
The virus is carried by mosquitoes, which transfer the virus when they feed on the blood of birds. Migratory birds probably carry the virus to Britain where it is passed to native birds
The research provides no evidence that the virus has transferred from mosquitoes to people in the UK. There also appears to be no threat to other wildlife species, farm animals or pets.
The CEH research team tested 30 different species of resident and migrant birds, including carrion crows, magpies, robins, swallows and blackbirds, and farm birds such as ducks, chickens and turkeys. The tests were mainly carried out on birds from three rural areas – Cambridgeshire, Dorset and South Wales.
The results show that resident birds have been exposed to West Nile virus. A relatively high proportion of the resident birds have antibodies that protect against the virus. The fact that they are healthy indicates that the virus is not virulent for the birds, and may have been present in the UK for many years.
Dr Gould emphasises that the tests have been carried out on birds from only three rural areas He says, "There is no obvious immediate threat to people or animals but we do need to continue to monitor and assess the situation."
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1. The paper is entitled 'Serological evidence of West Nile virus, Usutu virus and Sindbis virus infection of birds in the UK.' The authors are: Dr Alan Buckley, Dr Ernest Gould and Dr Stephen Moss from CEH Oxford. Dr Alistair Dawson, Dr Shelley Hinsley and Dr Paul Bellamy from CEH Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire.
2. The full paper can be viewed on the Journal of General Virology website.
3. West Nile virus is believed to have originated in Africa and radiated to Europe, Asia, India and, as a descendent virus named Kunjin Virus, to Australia.
4. In the USA the virus has been responsible for the death of more than 270 people since it was first discovered in New York. It is believed to have been introduced accidentally, either by mosquitoes carried in luggage or by an infected bird smuggled or imported illegally into the country.
5. In some central and western European countries epidemic outbreaks of the virus – some fatal – have been recorded in both people and horses.
Press release: 15/03
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