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Understanding West Nile virus ecology in Europe: Culex pipiens host feeding preference in a hotspot of virus emergence

AuthorsRizzoli, Annapaola; Martínez de la Puente, Josué ; Rosà, Roberto
KeywordsCulex pipiens
Feeding preference
Mosquito host selection
Blood meal analysis
Multinomial simulations
Behavioural bioassay
Reservoir host
Turdus merula
Pica pica
Issue Date9-Apr-2015
PublisherBioMed Central
CitationParasites & Vectors 8(1): 213 (2015)
Abstract[Background] Understanding wildlife disease ecology is becoming an urgent need due to the continuous emergence and spread of several wildlife zoonotic diseases. West Nile Virus (WNV) is the most widespread arthropod-borne virus in the world, and in recent decades there has been an increase both in geographic range, and in the frequency of symptomatic infections in humans and wildlife. The principal vector for WNV in Europe is the common house Culex pipiens mosquito, which feeds on a wide variety of vertebrate host species. Variation in mosquito feeding preference has been described as one of the most influential parameters driving intensity and timing of WNV infection in the United States, but feeding preferences for this species have been little studied in Europe.
[Methods] Here, we estimated feeding preference for wild Cx. pipiens in northern Italy, using molecular analysis to identify the origin of blood meals, and avian census to control host abundance variations. Additionally, we used host bird odour extracts to test experimentally mosquito preferences in the absence of environmental variations.
[Results] For the first time, we demonstrate a clear feeding preference for the common blackbird (Turdus merula), both for wild collected specimens and in the lab, suggesting a potential important role for this species in the WNV epidemiology in Europe. A seasonal decrease in abundance of blackbirds is associated with increased feeding on Eurasian magpies (Pica pica), and this may be linked to seasonal emergence of WNV in humans. Feeding preferences on blackbirds are more marked in rural areas, while preference for magpies is higher in peridomestic areas. Other species, such as the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) appear to be selected by mosquitoes opportunistically in relation to its abundance.
[Conclusions] Our findings provide new insights into the ecology of Cx. pipiens in Europe and may give useful indications in terms of implementing targeted WNV surveillance plans. However, a clearer understanding of spatio-temporal variations of Cx. pipiens feeding preferences, and targeted studies on reservoir competence for WNV for these species are therefore now urgently needed as this is essential to describe disease dynamics and quantify virus transmission risk.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13071-015-0831-4
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