Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV), a mosquito-borne virus, has been responsible for large outbreaks in Africa that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of human infections and major economic disruption due to loss of livestock and to trade restrictions. Culex pipiens was implicated as the principal vector of the Egyptian outbreak in 1977 that affected about 200,000 people. In the northern USA, Cx. pipiens occurs both as a mix of forms pipiens and molestus (i.e., US Culex pipiens) as well as pure Cx. pipiens form molestus, the latter mostly in underground locations such as sewers and basements. In order to understand the potential risk of spread of RVFV in the USA, we compared their relative abilities to transmit RVFV in the laboratory. After feeding on hamsters with high viremias, >109 plaque-forming units (PFU)/ml, both US Cx. pipiens and Cx. pipiens form molestus were highly susceptible to infection (∼80%) and about 20% of each form developed a disseminated infection. In contrast, when fed on a hamster with a moderate viremia, 107.5 PFU/ml, US Cx. pipiens were significantly (P < 0.001) more susceptible (84%) than were the pure form molestus (47%). Similarly, dissemination rates were significantly (P = 0.0261) higher in US Cx. pipiens (34%) than they were in pure Cx. pipiens form molestus (10%). These results underscore differences in vector competence between genetic forms in the Cx. pipiens complex but also indicate that if RVFV were to arrive in the USA, competent vectors abound in the highly urbanized Northeast.
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