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Assessing West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus (USUV) exposure in bird ringers in the Netherlands: a high-risk group for WNV and USUV infection?


This publication is part of the project ‘Preparing for vector-borne virus outbreaks in a changing world: a One Health Approach’ (NWA.1160.1S.210) which is (partly) financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

Authors: Chiara de Bellegarde de Saint Lary, Louella M.R. Kasbergen, Patricia C.J.L. Bruijning-Verhagen, Henk van der Jeugd, Felicity Chandler, Boris M. Hogema, Hans L. Zaaijer, Fiona R.M. van der Klis, Luisa Barzon, Erwin de Bruin, Quirine ten Bosch, Marion P.G. Koopmans, Reina S. Sikkema, Leo G. Visser


In 2020, the first Dutch West Nile virus (WNV) infected birds were detected through risk-targeted surveillance of songbirds. Retrospective testing of patients with unexplained neurological disease revealed human WNV infections in July and August 2020. Bird ringers are highly exposed to mosquito bites and possibly avian excrements during ringing activities. This study therefore investigates whether bird ringers are at higher risk of exposure to WNV and Usutu virus (USUV).


Dutch bird ringers were asked to provide a single serum sample (May – September 2021) and to fill out a survey. Sera were screened by protein microarray for presence of specific IgG against WNV and USUV non-structural protein 1 (NS1), followed by focus reduction virus neutralization tests (FRNT). Healthcare workers (2009–2010), the national immunity cohort (2016–2017) and blood donors (2021) were used as control groups without this occupational exposure.


The majority of the 157 participating bird ringers was male (132/157, 84%) and the median age was 62 years. Thirty-seven participants (37/157, 23.6%) showed WNV and USUV IgG microarray signals above background, compared to 6.4% (6/94) in the community cohort and 2.1% (2/96) in blood donors (p < 0.01). Two seroreactive bird ringers were confirmed WNV or USUV positive by FRNT. The majority of seroreactive bird ringers travelled to EU countries with reported WNV human cases (30/37, 81%) (p = 0.07). No difference was observed between bird ringers with and without previous yellow fever vaccination.

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Source: Science Direct

Date: April 20, 2023