Quantifying the Risk of Introduction of West Nile Virus into Great Britain by Migrating Passerine Birds

Transboundary and Emerging Diseases

West Nile virus (WNV) is a mosquito borne arbovirus that circulates within avian reservoirs. WNV can spill over into humans and Equidae that are dead-end hosts for WNV but suffer fever, acute morbidity and sometimes death. Outbreaks of WNV are common across Africa and Eastern Europe, and there have also been sporadic outbreaks in Spain and the Camargue Regional Park in France, but never in Great Britain (GB). These areas all fall along a major bird migration route. In this study, we analyse a scenario in which WNV is circulating in the Camargue or in other wetland areas in France and we estimate the risk of northward migrating passerine birds stopping in a WNV hotspot, becoming infected and carrying active infection to GB. If the disease were circulating in the Camargue during a single migratory season, the probability that one or more migrating birds becomes infected and lands in GB whilst still infected is 0.881 with 0.384 birds arriving in areas of suitable vector habitat. However, if WNV became established in the Grand Brière National Park or La Brenne Regional Park wetland areas further to the north, the model predicts that at least one infected bird will continue to GB. Thus, GB is at risk of WNV introduction from the Camargue, but the risk is considerably greater if WNV were to circulate further north than its previous focus in France, but this is highly sensitive to the force of infection in the infected area. However, the risk of establishment and infection of humans in GB is dependent upon a number of additional factors, in particular the vector and epidemiological situation in GB.