To test the hypothesis that adaptation to epizootic mosquito vectors mediates emergence of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) from enzootic progenitors, experimental infection studies were conducted to determine the susceptibility of Ochlerotatus taeniorhynchus (Wiedemann) to epizootic and enzootic strains. Artificial blood meals containing epizootic subtype IC strains isolated during the 1962–1964, 1992–1993, and 1995 Venezuelan/Colombian epizootics and closely related Venezuelan enzootic subtype ID strains were used to compare infectivity and transmission potential. Their greater infectivity and replication suggested that adaptation of epizootic strains to Oc. taeniorhynchus may have enhanced epizootic transmission during the 1962–1964 and 1995 IC coastal epizootics. However, strains from the small 1992–1993 Venezuelan outbreak that did not extend to coastal regions do not seem to infect this species better than closely related subtype ID strains. Adaptation of VEEV to epizootic vectors such as Oc. taeniorhynchus mosquitoes may be a determinant of some but not all VEE emergence events and may influence spread into coastal regions.
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Vol. 41 • No. 5