U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



VECTOR-BORNE AND ZOONOTIC DISEASES Volume 10, Number 5, 2010; DOI: 10.1089=vbz.2009.0113


The cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) could play an important role in the transmission of West Nile virus (WNV) because of its breeding ecology, reservoir competence status, and potentially high natural exposure rates. Cliff swallows nest within colonies and their nests are occupied year-round by swallow bugs (Oeciacus vicarius), hematophagus ectoparasites that feed primarily on cliff swallows. These parasites are likely exposed to WNV while feeding on infectious blood of nesting cliff swallow adults and nestlings and thus, if competent vectors, could contribute to seasonal elevations in WNV transmission. In addition, swallow bugs remain within nests year-round and therefore could provide a potential overwintering mechanism for WNV if persistently infected. To test the hypotheses that swallow bugs are competent vectors and become persistently infected with WNV, we experimentally inoculated cliff swallow nestlings, allowed swallow bugs to feed on these birds during the acute phase of infection, and then exposed naive cliff swallow nestlings to the same swallow bugs. In addition, a subset of swallow bugs that fed on infectious swallow nestlings was maintained through a simulated overwintering period. Although swallow bugs ingested infectious blood (up to 106.8 plaque-forming units of WNV=mL serum) and subsequently blood-fed on naive swallows, no WNV transmission was detected, and all bugs tested WNV negative after the simulated overwintering period. Although many ecologic scenarios exist beyond the present study, our results suggest that swallow bugs may be unlikely to serve as competent biological vectors for WNV during active transmission periods or to reinitiate seasonal transmission.