West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus (USUV), both belonging to the genus Flavivirus, are emerging in Italy as important human and animal pathogens. Migratory birds are involved in the spread of Flaviviruses over long distances, particularly from Africa to Europe. Once introduced, these viruses can be further be dispersed by short-distance migratory and resident bird species. Thus far, there is still a considerable knowledge gap on the role played by different bird species in the ecology and transmission mechanisms of these viruses. The Region of Trentino-Alto Adige (north-eastern Italy) is located on the migratory route of many of the short- and long-distance migratory birds that cross the Alps, connecting northern Europe and western Asia with southern Europe and Africa. Until now, only a silent circulation of WNV and USUV within the territory of the Province of Trento has been confirmed by serological screening, whilst no cases of infected humans or animals have so far been reported. However, continuous spillover events of both viruses have been reported in neighbouring Regions. The aim of this study was to monitor the circulation of WNV and USUV in Trentino-Alto Adige, in order to detect if active virus shedding occurs in migratory birds captured during their seasonal movements and to evaluate the role that different bird species could play in the spreading of these viruses.
We carried out a biomolecular survey on oral and cloacal swabs collected from migratory birds during seasonal migrations. Birds belonging to 18 transaharian and 21 intrapaleartic species were examined during spring (n = 176) and autumn (n = 146), and were tested using a generic nested-PCR.
All samples tested negative for Flaviviruses. The possible causes of unapparent shedding, along with ecological and epidemiological implications are discussed.
The lack of detection of active virus shedding in these bird species does not exclude the circulation of these viruses within the Trentino-Alto Adige region, as reported in previous studies. The possible ecological implications are discussed.