Test of Recrudescence Hypothesis for Overwintering of Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis Virus in Gray Catbirds
Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV; family Togaviridae, genus Alphavirus) epizootics are infrequent, but they can lead to high mortality in infected horses and humans. Despite the importance of EEEV to human and animal health, little is known about how the virus overwinters and reinitiates transmission each spring, particularly in temperate regions where infected adult mosquitoes are unlikely to survive through the winter. One hypothesis to explain the mechanism by which this virus persists from year to year is the spring recrudescence of latent virus in avian reservoir hosts. In this study, we tested the recrudescence hypothesis with gray catbirds (Dumatella carolinensis) captured in northern Ohio (July-August 2007). Birds were experimentally infected with EEEV on 1 October 2007. In January 2008, they were then exposed to exogenous testosterone and/or extended photoperiod to initiate reactivation of latent EEEV infection. All birds became viremic with EEEV, with mean viremia of 6.0 log(10) plaque-forming units/ml serum occurring at 1 d postinoculation. One male in the testosterone, long-day treatment group had EEEV viral RNA in a cloacal swab collected on 18 January 2008. Otherwise, no other catbirds exhibited reactivated infections in cloacal swabs or blood. Antibody titers fluctuated over the course of the study, with lowest titers observed in January 2008, which corresponded with the lowest mean weight of the birds. No EEEV viral RNA was detected in the blood, kidney, spleen, brain, liver, and lower intestine upon necropsy at 19 wk postinfection.