Molecular characterization of the re-emerging West Nile virus in avian species and equids in Israel, 2018, and pathological description of the disease

Gili Schvartz, Yigal Farnoushi, Asaf Berkowitz, Nir Edery, Shelly Hahn, Amir Steinman, Avishai Lublin*, Oran Erster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: In this report we describe the molecular and pathological characteristics of West Nile virus (WNV) infection that occurred during the summer and fall of 2018 in avian species and equines. WNV is reported in Israel since the 1950s, with occasional outbreaks leading to significant morbidity and mortality in birds, high infection in horses and humans, and sporadic fatalities in humans. Methods: Animal and avian carcasses in a suitable condition were examined by post-mortem analysis. Tissue samples were examined for WNV by RT-qPCR and the viral load was quantified. Samples with sufficient material quality were further analyzed by Endpoint PCR and sequencing, which was used for phylogenetic analysis. Tissue samples from positive animals were used for culturing the virus in Vero and C6/36 cells. Results: WNV RNA was detected in one yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis), two long-eared owls (Asio otus), two domesticated geese (Anser anser), one pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), four hooded crows (Corvus cornix), three horses and one donkey. Pathological and histopathological findings were characteristic of viral infection. Molecular analysis and viral load quantification showed varying degrees of infection, ranging between 70–1.4 × 106 target copies per sample. Phylogenetic analysis of a 906-bp genomic segment showed that all samples belonged to Lineage 1 clade 1a, with the following partition: five samples from 2018 and one sample detected in 2016 were of Cluster 2 Eastern European, two of Cluster 2 Mediterranean and four of Cluster 4. Four of the positive samples was successfully propagated in C6/36 and Vero cell lines for further work. Conclusions: WNV is constantly circulating in wild and domesticated birds and animals in Israel, necessitating constant surveillance in birds and equines. At least three WNV strains were circulating in the suspected birds and animals examined. Quantitative analysis showed that the viral load varies significantly between different organs and tissues of the infected animals.[Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageAmerican English
Article number528
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Avian species
  • Equids
  • Histopathology
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • West-nile virus


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