West Nile Virus in north-eastern Italy, 2011: entomological and equine IgM-based surveillance to detect active virus circulation.
Since 2008, West Nile Virus (WNV) has expanded its range in several Italian regions, and its yearly recurrence suggests the virus may have become endemic in some areas. In 2011, a new plan based also on the detection of IgM antibodies was implemented in the north-eastern Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, aiming to early detect WNV infections in areas where the virus had already circulated during the previous summers, and in adjacent zones. From July to November 2011, 1880 sera from 521 equine premises were screened by a commercial IgM capture ELISA. Mosquitoes were captured by CDC-CO2 traps at 61 locations in the two regions. Collected mosquitoes were identified, pooled by species/date/location and examined by real-time RT-PCR and sequencing. Passive surveillance was carried out on clinically affected horses and non-migratory wild birds found dead. IgM sero-positive equines were detected in 19 holdings, five in the area with WNV circulation (AWC) and 14 in the surveillance area (SA); 10 more horse premises tested positive to further serological controls within 4 km of the positive holdings. A total of 85 398 mosquitoes of 15 species were collected and 2732 pools examined. Five Culex pipiens pools tested positive for the presence of WNV. Passive surveillance on non-migratory wild birds allowed detection of the virus only in one found dead collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto), of 82 birds sampled. The WNV belonged to the lineage 2, which had been isolated for the first time in Italy earlier in 2011. By the first week of October, nine human cases had been confirmed in the same area. The implementation of a protocol combining IgM screening of horses with surveillance on mosquito vectors proved to be valuable for early detecting WNV circulation.