Introduced mosquito-borne avian disease is a major limiting factor in the recovery and restoration of native Hawaiian forest birds. Annual epizootics of avian pox (Avipoxvirus) and avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum) likely led to the extinction of some species and continue to impact populations of susceptible Hawaiian honeycreepers (Drepanidinae). The introduction of a novel pathogen, such as West Nile virus (WNV), could result in further population declines and extinctions. During September and October 2004, we infected Hawai`i `Amakihi (Hemignathus virens) with a North American isolate of WNV by needle inoculation and mosquito bite to observe susceptibility, mortality, and illness in this endemic passerine, and to determine the vector competence of the co-occurring, introduced mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus. All experimentally infected Hawai`i `Amakihi became viremic, with a mean titer >105 plaque-forming units (PFU)/ml, and they experienced clinical signs ranging from anorexia and lethargy to ataxia. The fatality rate among needle-inoculated Hawai`i `Amakihi (n=16) was 31.3%, but mortality in free-ranging birds is likely to increase due to predation, starvation, thermal stress, and concomitant infections of avian malaria and pox. Surviving Hawai`i `Amakihi seem to clear WNV from the peripheral blood by 7–10 days postinfection (DPI), and neutralizing antibodies were detected from 9 to 46 DPI. In transmission trials, Hawaiian Cx. quinquefasciatus proved to be a competent vector and Hawai`i `Amakihi an adequate amplification host of WNV, suggesting that epizootic WNV could readily become an additional limiting factor of some native Hawaiian bird populations.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2