Evidence for West Nile Virus and Usutu virus infections in wild and resident birds in Germany, 2017 and 2018
Wild birds play an important role as reservoir hosts and vectors for zoonotic arboviruses and foster their spread. Usutu virus (USUV) has been circulating endemically in Germany since 2011, while West Nile virus (WNV) was first diagnosed in several bird species and horses in 2018. In 2017 and 2018, we screened 1709 live wild and zoo birds with real-time polymerase chain reaction and serological assays. Moreover, organ samples from bird carcasses submitted in 2017 were investigated. Overall, 57 blood samples of the live birds (2017 and 2018), and 100 organ samples of dead birds (2017) were positive for USUV-RNA, while no WNV-RNA-positive sample was found. Phylogenetic analysis revealed the first detection of USUV lineage Europe 2 in Germany and the spread of USUV lineages Europe 3 and Africa 3 towards Northern Germany. USUV antibody prevalence rates were high in Eastern Germany in both years. On the contrary, in Northern Germany, high seroprevalence rates were first detected in 2018, with the first emergence of USUV in this region. Interestingly, high WNV-specific neutralizing antibody titers were observed in resident and short-distance migratory birds in Eastern Germany in 2018, indicating the first signs of a local WNV circulation.