In response to the 1984 St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) epidemic in the Los Angeles Basin of southern California (USA), an investigative program was initiated to evaluate the interactive components of the SLE virus transmission cycle. From 1987 through 1996 (10 yr), 52,589 birds were bled and their sera tested for SLE and western equine encephalomyelitis (WEE) virus antibodies by the hemagglutination inhibition (HAI) test. Eighty-three percent of the birds tested were house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) (48.7%) and house sparrows (Passer domesticus) (34.6%); 1.1% of these birds were positive for SLE antibodies. Prevalence of WEE antibodies was negligible. The analysis of 5,481 sera from rock doves (Columbia livia) yielded 3.6% SLE positives and 0.4% WEE positives. Collection sites were maintained as study sites when identified as positive bird, mosquito, and SLE virus activity localities; others were abandoned. Serial serum samples from 7,749 banded house sparrows and 9,428 banded house finches from these selected sites demonstrated year-round SLE virus transmission. One location exhibited significant numbers of house finches undergoing annual SLE seroconversion and a number of seroconversion-reversion-reconversion sequences suggesting either viral reinfection from mosquitoes or recrudescence by latent virus. A proportion of both bird species also lived for longer than 1 yr, thus, increasing the possibility of virus carry-over from autumn to spring. Assessment of concurrently collected mosquitoes indicated no correlative association between mosquito populations and SLE seroconversion and reconversion. European house sparrows introduced in the 1800's may have provided a supplemental link to the existing SLE virus enzootic cycle involving endemic house finches. Meteorological factors are reviewed as possible important correlates of SLE epidemics. The house finch/house sparrow serosurveillance system is also evaluated for use as an “Early Warning” indicator of SLE virus activity.
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