West Nile Virus (rapid spreading how?)

Ken Kinman kinman2 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Oct 27 22:28:37 CDT 2004

Dear All,
      I was recently studying the reduction of bird diversity in North America, but in the process, I got side-tracked on the West Nile Virus (the spread of which is often blamed on migrating birds).  I'm beginning to wonder if we are actually "blaming the victim" here, and it may well be human activities that are really to blame.

      I can't help but wonder if the rapidity with which this virus has spread across North America is perhaps due to another cause.  Although mosquitoes are obviously the vector spreading the virus from one vertebrate to another, perhaps the main vertebrate vector is actually horses rather than birds.  For one thing, is seems just as likely that it was imported horses (rather than imported birds) that actually introduced the virus into North America in the first place.  The relatively rapid spread from the New York area to Florida could more easily be the "documented" result of sending horsemeat (infected with West Nile Virus) to Florida and southern Georgia.  Alligators on these southeast farms which were fed this infected horsemeat (from Pennsylvania) came down with West Nile Virus in 2001.  Has it been investigated whether such horsemeat could have also spread West Nile Virus to California alligators farms (something worth thinking about rather than blaming it on birds)?

      Although the damage (transcontinental spread of WNV) has already been done, it amazes me that Florida alligator farmers apparently resisted the CDC's recommendations to stop feeding horsemeat to their alligators (at least as of the publication of the paper in 2003).  Anyway, here is a link to the CDC's paper which got me to thinking about this problem:


          --------- Ken Kinman
P.S.  Both birds and horses from overseas are held in quarantine in a center at Newburgh, New York.  Is it more likely that North American mosquitoes picked up West Nile Virus from landing on the skin of large horses or the feathered bodies of smaller birds?  I don't know what the accomodations for birds are like, but I'd bet the barns/stalls housing horses are probably more exposed to mosquitoes.  Spread to nearby Pennsylvania horses would explain the infection of horsemeat found in the Florida/Georgia indicents (and who knows about how the virus got to California, although there are alligator farms there as well).  Why do we keep blaming migrating birds when it could have been human greed, ignorance and/or stupidity?  After all, the muscle meat of those slaughtered Pennsylvania horses probably ended up in lucrative markets in Europe or Japan, so the ground-up brains and other body parts might only be only worth processing as alligator food.  It kind of reminds me of the possible spread of "prions" (mad cow and mad deer diseases) when cattle and farm deer were fed chicken and other ground-up animal "renderings".  Bad enough that so many farmed ruminants are fed grains instead of grasses, but feeding them ground-up animal remains (not to mention large doses of antibiotics) seems biologically and medically idiotic, even if it may be economically advantageous over the short term.  I'd rant on about this subject even more if I thought it would do any good, but being both cynical and tired, I'll stop here.

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