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


Date of this Version

May 2004


Published by BioScience.


West Nile virus (WNV) has spread rapidly across North America, resulting in human deaths and in the deaths of untold numbers of birds, mammals, and reptiles. The virus has reached Central America and the Caribbean and may spread to Hawaii and South America. Although tens of thousands of birds have died, and studies of some bird species show local declines, few region-wide declines can be attributed to WNV. Predicting future impacts of WNV on wildlife, and pinpointing what drives epidemics, will require substantial additional research into host susceptibility, reservoir competency, and linkages between climate, mosquitoes, and disease. Such work will entail a collaborative effort between scientists in governmental research groups, in surveillance and control programs, and in nongovernmental organizations. West Nile virus was not the first, and it will not be the last, exotic disease to be introduced to the New World. Its spread in North America highlights the need to strengthen animal monitoring programs and to integrate them with research on disease ecology.