Co-infections: simultaneous detections of West Nile virus and Usutu virus in birds from Germany.
The emergence of West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus (USUV) in Europe resulted in significant outbreaks leading to avifauna mortality and human infections. Both viruses have overlapping geographical, host and vector ranges, and are often co-circulating in Europe. In Germany, a nationwide bird surveillance network was established to monitor these zoonotic arthropod-borne viruses in migratory and resident birds. In this framework, co-infections with WNV and USUV were detected in six dead birds collected in 2018 and 2019. Genomic sequencing and phylogenetic analyses classified the detected WNV strains as lineage 2 and the USUV strains as lineages Africa 2 (n = 2), Africa 3 (n = 3) and Europe 2 (n = 1). Preliminary attempts to co-propagate both viruses in vitro failed. However, we successfully cultivated WNV from two animals. Further evidence for WNV-USUV co-infection was obtained by sampling live birds in four zoological gardens with confirmed WNV cases. Three snowy owls had high neutralizing antibody titres against both WNV and USUV, of which two were also positive for USUV-RNA. In conclusion, further reports of co-infections in animals as well as in humans are expected in the future, particularly in areas where both viruses are present in the vector population.