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WEST Nile virus (WNV) is an arbovirus that causes disease in birds and mammals, including human beings and horses (Zeller and Schuffenecker 2004). It is a member of the genus Flavivirus in the family Flaviviridae (Fauquet and others 2005). Based on the specific amino acid structure of their envelope proteins, WNVs have been further classified into two serologically cross-reactive lineages (Brinton 2002). The virus, which is maintained in an enzootic cycle of avian hosts and mosquito vectors (Gould 2003), is prevalent in many regions of Africa, Europe, India, the Middle East, Russia, Australia and North America (Dauphin and Zientara 2007). The introduction of WNV to North America in 1999 caused major zoonotic illness and widespread disease in birds and in horses (Pauli 2004).
Eighteen species of mosquitoes have been recorded in Ireland (Ashe and others 1991), but it is uncertain whether a reservoir of WNV exists. The three reported cases of illness in Irish citizens have been linked to exposure to vectors in Portugal (Connell and others 2004) and the USA (Phipps and others 2008). To determine whether WNV was circulating in Ireland, serological surveillance was performed on 2443 avian and 490 equine sera collected in 2005, 2006 and 2010. The avian sera were collected from free-range chickens, wild birds and a range of captive birds.
All sera were screened by commercial ELISA. The Virion Serion ELISA (Launch Diagnostics) for antibodies to tickborne encephalitis virus was used with minor modifications to test sera collected during 2005 and 2006 because a commercial WNV antibody ELISA was not available at that time. The principal modification was the substitution of conjugated antichicken, wild bird …