Evaluation of vector competence for West Nile virus in ItalianStegomyia albopicta(=Aedes albopictus) mosquitoes

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Abstract.West Nile virus (WNV) is a zoonotic arboviral pathogen transmitted by mosquitoes in a cycle that involves wild birds as reservoir hosts. The virus is responsible for outbreaks of viral encephalitis in humans and horses. In Europe, Culex pipiens (Diptera: Culicidae) is considered to be the main vector of WNV, but other species such as Stegomyia albopicta (=Aedes albopictus) (Diptera: Culicidae) may also act as competent vectors of this virus. Since 2008 human cases of WNV disease have been reported in northeast Italy. In 2011, new areas of southern Italy became involved and a first outbreak of WNV lineage 1 occurred on the island of Sardinia. On the assumption that a potential involvement of St. albopicta in WNV transmission cannot be excluded, and in order to evaluate the competence of this species for the virus, an experimental infection of an St. albopicta laboratory colony, established from mosquitoes collected in Sardinia, was carried out. The results were compared with those obtained in a colony of the main vector Cx. pipiens. The study showed St. albopicta collected on Sardinia to be susceptible to WNV infection, which suggests this Italian mosquito species is able to act as a possible secondary vector, particularly in urban areas where the species reaches high levels of seasonal abundance.

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