Epidemiology and Infection

Original Papers


Epidemiological perspectives on West Nile virus surveillance in wild birds in Great Britain

V. A. BRUGMANa1a2, D. L. HORTONa2, L. P. PHIPPSa2, N. JOHNSONa2, A. J. C. COOKa2, A. R. FOOKSa2a3 and A. C. BREEDa2a4 c1

a1 Royal Veterinary College, University of London, Camden, London, UK

a2 Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), Addlestone, Surrey, UK

a3 National Centre for Zoonosis Research, Leahurst, Neston, South Wirral, UK

a4 School of Veterinary Science, University of Adelaide, South Australia


West Nile virus (WNV) is a zoonotic arthropod-borne pathogen with continued geographical expansion in Europe. We present and evaluate data on the temporal, spatial and bird species focus of the WNV surveillance programme in dead wild birds in Great Britain (2002–2009). During this period all bird samples tested negative for WNV. Eighty-two per cent of the 2072 submissions occurred during the peak period of vector activity with 53% tested during April–July before human and equine infection would be expected. Samples were received from every county, but there was significant geographical clustering (nearest neighbour index=0·23, P<0·001). Over 240 species were represented, with surveillance more likely to detect WNV in resident bird species (92% of submissions) than migrants (8%). Evidence indicates that widespread avian mortality is not generally a reported feature of WNV in Europe and hence additional activities other than dead bird surveillance may maximize the ability to detect WNV circulation before the onset of human and equine infections.

(Received March 07 2012)

(Revised July 20 2012)

(Accepted July 24 2012)

(Online publication September 05 2012)

Key words

  • Epidemiology;
  • surveillance;
  • veterinary epidemiology;
  • West Nile virus;
  • zoonoses


c1 Author for correspondence: Dr A. C. Breed, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), Addlestone, Surrey, UK. (Email: andrew.breed@ahlva.gsi.gov.uk)