Laboratory and field research was conducted to determine if Culex tarsalis Coquillett expectorated West Nile virus (WNV) during sugar feeding and if a lure or bait station could be developed to exploit this behavior for WNV surveillance. Experimentally infected Cx. tarsalis repeatedly expectorated WNV onto filter paper strips and into vials with wicks containing sucrose that was readily detectable by a quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction assay. Few females (33%, n = 27) became infected by imbibing sugar solutions spiked with high concentrations (107 plaque forming units/ml) of WNV, indicating sugar feeding stations probably would not be a source of WNV infection. In nature, sugar bait stations scented with the floral attractant phenyl acetaldehyde tracked WNV transmission activity in desert but not urban or agricultural landscapes in California. When deployed in areas of the Coachella Valley with WNV activity during the summer of 2011, 27 of 400 weekly sugar samples (6.8%) tested positive for WNV RN A by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. Prevalence of positives varied spatially, but positive sugar stations were detected before concurrent surveillance measures of infection (mosquito pools) or transmission (sentinel chicken seroconversions). In contrast, sugar bait stations deployed in urban settings in Los Angeles or agricultural habits near Bakersfield in Kern County supporting WNV activity produced 1 of 90 and 0 of 60 positive weekly sugar samples, respectively. These results with sugar bait stations will require additional research to enhance bait attractancy and to understand the relationship between positive sugar stations and standard metrics of arbovirus surveillance.
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Vol. 49 • No. 6