Surveillance is critical for identifying and monitoring pathogen activity in wildlife populations, but often is cost- and time-prohibitive and logistically challenging. We tested the hypothesis that wildlife rehabilitation centers are useful for monitoring pathogen activity using West Nile virus (WNV) as a case study. We hypothesized that birds submitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers would have a similar prevalence of antibody to WNV as free-ranging birds. From 2008 to 2010, we collected sera from peridomestic birds submitted to the Wildlife Care Clinic (WCC), a wildlife rehabilitation center in central Iowa, and tested them for antibodies to WNV. We also collected and tested sera from free-ranging peridomestic birds in the area from which approximately 50% of WCC submissions historically originated. Prevalences of WNV antibodies in free-ranging birds and in peridomestic WCC birds were 2.3% (44/1,936) and 2.8% (2/72), respectively. However, none of the birds submitted to the WCC from the area where we captured free-ranging birds had antibodies (0/29). Our results indicate that rehabilitation facilities are not likely to be useful for monitoring WNV activity at small spatial scales or over short-time periods due to the low endemic prevalence of WNV, and low and variable submission rates. However, at larger spatial scales (ca. nine Iowa counties) WNV antibody prevalence in peridomestic birds submitted to the WCC was similar to that of free-ranging birds. Although limitations to using rehabilitation birds to monitor WNV must be considered, testing these birds could be useful for monitoring WNV activity regionally, especially with many states limiting surveillance due to budgetary constraints.
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Vol. 48 • No. 3