We performed experimental inoculations of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) with Buggy Creek virus (BCRV), a poorly known alphavirus (Togaviridae) vectored primarily by the swallow bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae: Oeciacus vicarius) that is an ectoparasite of the cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) and house sparrow. Viremias were detected by plaque assay in two of six birds on days 1–3 postinoculation; viremia was highest on day 2. Viral RNA was detected by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in blood of six of 12 birds ranging from day 1 to day 15 postinoculation. Infectious BCRV was detected in nasopharyngeal swab samples from two birds by plaque assay. Three control birds that were housed with viremic individuals showed evidence of BCRV RNA in blood (by RT-PCR), suggesting possible bird-to-bird transmission of this virus. Viral RNA also was detected by RT-PCR in brain and skin tissue of six birds on necropsy at the end of the 16-day experiment. Introduced house sparrows are apparently a competent amplifying host for BCRV, and their presence year-round at cliff swallow colonies may facilitate persistence of the virus locally, especially when cliff swallows abandon a site temporarily. The findings that BCRV can be shed orally, that it persists in bird skin, and that control birds could apparently be infected by conspecifics suggest that this virus may be transmitted from bird to bird in the crowded conditions of many cliff swallow colonies.
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