The introduction of a St. Louis encephalitis virus (SLE) genotype new to southeastern California during 2000 was followed by focal enzootic amplification in the Coachella Valley that was detected by seroconversions of 29 sentinel chickens in five of nine flocks of 10 chickens each, isolations of virus from 30 of 538 pools of 50 Culex tarsalis Coquillett females, and collection of 30 positive sera from 2,205 wild birds. This SLE strain over wintered successfully and then amplified during the summer of 2001, with 47 sentinel seroconversions in eight of nine flocks, 70 virus isolations from 719 pools of Cx. tarsalis and Cx. p. quinquefasciatus Say, and 40 positive sera from 847 wild birds. Human illness was not detected by passive case surveillance, despite issuance of a health alert during 2001. Virus amplification during both years was associated with above average temperatures conducive for extrinsic incubation and below average precipitation during spring associated with below average vector abundance. Seroconversions by sentinel chickens provided the timely detection of virus activity, with initial conversions detected before positive mosquito pools or wild bird infections. Vertical infection was not detected among Cx. tarsalis adults reared from immatures collected during the fall-winter of 2000, even though SLE over wintered successfully in this area. Early seroconversions by a sentinel chicken during February 2001 and a recaptured Gambel’s quail in April 2001provided evidence for transmission during winter and spring when ambient temperatures averaged below 17°C, the threshold for SLE replication.
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Vol. 39 • No. 5