Usutu virus infection in aviary birds during the cold season
The mosquito-borne flavivirus Usutu virus (USUV) is responsible for countless deaths in both resident populations and birds kept in outdoor aviaries. Since 2001, USUV outbreaks attract increased attention due to the rapid geographical spread of the virus and its close relation to West Nile virus (WNV), an emerging pathogen in humans and animals. Similar to WNV, the USUV enzootic transmission cycle predominantly involves Culex spp. as vectors, whereas birds serve as amplifying reservoir hosts. In Europe, USUV-associated disease outbreaks in birds are nearly exclusively described during late spring and early autumn (early April to late October). Contagiousness of virus particles excreted by infected animals has not yet been proven, so that the role of non-vector-borne transmission, as it is known for the closely related WNV, remains unclear. Here we report the diagnosis of USUV infection in 15 of 24 birds from mortality outbreaks in eight different aviaries located in Germany, that occured during the cold season between late October 2018 and early April 2019. Detection of USUV was performed using standardized molecular biological methods and immunohistochemistry for verification of the infection. USUV infection in a parrot species, a tropical finch and two estrildid finches are reported for the first time. Further research on the occurrence of USUV infection during the cold season is key to understanding the dynamics of viral transmission as well as for a profound health risk assessment for aviary birds as well as humans.