Wild birds are rarely found with active arbovirus infections, and relatively little is known about the patterns of viremia they exhibit under field conditions or how infection varies with date, bird age, or other factors that potentially affect transmission dynamics. Buggy Creek virus (BCRV; Togaviridae, Alphavirus) is an arbovirus associated with colonially nesting Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) and transmitted by its vector, the hematophagous swallow bug (Oeciacus vicarius), an ectoparasite of the Cliff Swallow. Introduced House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) that have occupied swallow nests at colony sites in peridomestic settings are also exposed to BCRV when fed upon by swallow bugs. We used data from 882 nestling House Sparrows in western Nebraska from 2006 to 2008 to examine seasonal variation and age-related correlates of virus infection in the field. Over 17% of nestling House Sparrows had active infections. Prevalence was higher in 2007 than in 2008 when birds from all colony sites were analyzed, but there was no significant difference between years for sites sampled in both seasons. Buggy Creek virus prevalence was similar in early and late summer, with a peak in midsummer, coinciding with the greatest swallow bug abundance. Nestlings 10 days of age and younger were most commonly infected, and the likelihood of BCRV infection declined for older nestlings. Average viremia titers also declined with age (but did not vary with date) and were high enough at all nestling ages to likely infect blood-feeding arthropods (swallow bugs). Length of viremia for nestlings in the field was ≥4 days, in agreement with an earlier study of BCRV. Nestling birds offer many advantages for field studies of arbovirus amplification and transmission.
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Vol. 48 • No. 1