Reported human cases of West Nile virus (WNV) in Europe increased dramatically in 2018. Lineage 1 strains had been circulating in Euro-Mediterranean countries since the early 1990s. The subsequent introduction of WNV lineage 2 has been responsible for the remarkable upsurge of European WNV outbreaks since 2004, including the dramatic increase in human cases observed since 2018. The virus exists in a natural cycle between mosquitoes and wild birds, with humans and horses acting as dead-end hosts. As the key vertebrate hosts in the transmission cycle of WNV, avian species have been the focus of surveillance across many countries. Raptors appear particularly susceptible to WNV infection, resulting in higher prevalence, and in some cases exhibiting neurological signs that lead to the death of the animal. In addition, birds of prey are known to play an important role as WNV reservoir and potentially amplifying hosts of infection. Importantly, raptor higher susceptibility/prevalence may indicate infection through predation of infected prey. Consequently, they are considered important target species when designing cost-effective surveillance for monitoring both seasonal WNV circulation in endemic countries and its emergence into new areas, where migrating raptors may play a critical role in virus introduction. This review summarizes the different aspects of the current knowledge of WNV infection in birds of prey and evaluates their role in the evolution of the epizootic that is spreading throughout Europe.
- West Nile virus
- birds of prey