Eastern Screech Owls (EASOs) were experimentally infected with the pathogenic New York 1999 strain of West Nile virus (WNV) by subcutaneous injection or per os. Two of nine subcutaneously inoculated birds died or were euthanatized on 8 or 9 days postinfection (DPI) after <24 hr of lethargy and recumbency. All subcutaneously inoculated birds developed levels of viremia that are likely infectious to mosquitoes, with peak viremia levels ranging from 105.0 to 109.6 plaque-forming units/ml. Despite the viremia, the remaining seven birds did not display signs of illness. All birds alive beyond 5 DPI seroconverted, although the morbid birds demonstrated significantly lower antibody titers than the clinically normal birds. Cagemates of infected birds did not become infected. One of five orally exposed EASOs became viremic and seroconverted, whereas WNV infection in the remaining four birds was not evident. All infected birds shed virus via the oral and cloacal route. Early during infection, WNV targeted skin, spleen, esophagus, and skeletal muscle. The two morbid owls had myocardial and skeletal muscle necrosis and mild encephalitis and nephritis, whereas some of the clinically healthy birds that were sacrificed on 14 DPI had myocardial arteritis and renal phlebitis. WNV is a significant pathogen of EASOs, causing pathologic lesions with varying clinical outcomes.
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Experimental West Nile virus infection in Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio)