An extended area of northern Italy has experienced several West Nile virus (WNV) outbreaks and the emergence of Usutu virus (USUV) during previous years. Our aim was to study some of the factors that could explain disease patterns in the Trentino region, where circulation was detected in human sera and sentinel chickens, but no human or equine cases were reported. We collected Culex species (Diptera: Culicidae) in peridomestic environments. The collected specimens were analyzed for feeding behavior, the influence of temperature and rainfall on the abundance of mosquitoes, and the occurrence of flaviruses. Analysis of blood meals showed that Culex pipiens fed mainly on blackbirds (Turdus merula) and house sparrows (Passer domesticus), while Culex hortensis fed strictly on lizards. The abundance of Cx. pipiens females correlated positively with mean temperature and negatively with rainfall (one to four weeks before capture). This negative relationship could be due to the direct effect of the flushing of habitats together with an indirect effect of oviposition repellency. The mean weekly temperature influenced the abundance of Cx. hortensis. No flaviviruses were detected in the analyzed Culex mosquitoes. These data suggest a silent cycle at low enzootic transmission levels in the area. Furthermore, we present the first contribution to understanding the transmission role of Cx. pipiens mosquitoes in Italy by identifying vertebrate hosts to species level.
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Vol. 37 • No. 1