A total of 27 bird species from the San Joaquin and Coachella valleys of California were inoculated subcutaneously with sympatric strains of western equine encephalomyelitis (WEE) and St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) viruses. Overall, 133 of 164 birds inoculated with WEE virus developed a viremia detected by plaque assay; significantly greater than 72 of 163 birds inoculated with SLE virus. Host competence was calculated as the average number of days that each avian species had a viremia ≥2 log10 plaque-forming units per 0.1 ml, the threshold for infecting susceptible Culex tarsalis Coquillett, the primary vector of these viruses in California. Eleven of 20 species inoculated with WEE virus had a value ≥1 and were considered to be competent hosts, whereas only six of 22 species inoculated with SLE virus had a value ≥1. Overall, 133 of 164 birds inoculated with WEE virus and 105 of 163 inoculated with SLE virus produced antibody detectable by enzyme immunoassay and/or plaque reduction neutralization test. Six birds infected with WEE virus (one house finch, three mourning doves, one Brewer’s sparrow, and one white-crowned sparrow) and nine birds infected with SLE virus (two house finches, three white-crowned sparrows, one song sparrow, two Western scrub-jays, and one orange crowned warbler) contained viral RNA detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction at necropsy >6 wk postinoculation; infectious WEE and SLE viruses were only recovered from three mourning doves and an orange-crowned warbler, respectively, after blind passage in mosquito cells. Our study indicated that birds with elevated field antibody prevalence rates may not be the most competent hosts for encephalitis viruses and that relatively few birds developed chronic infections that could be important in virus persistence and dispersal.
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Vol. 40 • No. 6