West Nile virus was introduced into the United States in the vicinity of New York, New York, USA in 1999. The virus has since killed large numbers of birds nationwide, especially, but not limited to, crows (Corvus brachyrhinchos). One sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) at the Bridgeport Zoo (Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA) reportedly died from West Nile virus, so sandhill cranes and endangered whooping cranes (Grus americana), both in the wild and in captive breeding colonies at United States Geological Service (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (Laurel, Maryland, USA) were considered at risk. A killed vaccine in sandhill cranes was evaluated by vaccinating and then challenging these cranes with live West Nile virus. No sandhill cranes inoculated with the killed vaccine developed significant titers when compared with unvaccinated controls. No sandhill cranes inoculated with the vaccine and challenged with the virus died from West Nile virus infection. In addition, no unvaccinated challenged sandhill cranes died. However, 2 days postchallenge, vaccinated cranes had significantly less viremia (P < 0.05) than unvaccinated cranes. Seven days postchallenge vaccinated cranes had significantly less cloacal shedding of the virus (P < 0.05) than unvaccinated cranes and significantly less weight loss (P < 0.05) as compared with unvaccinated cranes. Vaccinated sandhill cranes developed significantly higher titers 14 days postchallenge and were viremic for shorter periods of time after challenge than unvaccinated individuals. Unvaccinated challenged cranes had glial cell aggregates in both the brain and brain stem areas, and this was not observed in vaccinated challenged cranes or in vaccinated unchallenged cranes.
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Vol. 40 • No. 2