West Nile Virus

West Nile is a flavivirus spread by mosquitoes. Infection can lead to West Nile Encephalitis, or brain swelling. While it can be a serious human disease, it is even more life threatening for certain other animals. It is fatal to horses and a high proportion of corvids (crows, jays). (For more information on WNV, please visit the CDC's WNV homepage).

In 2002, we discovered that WNV is a serious new disease to Canada's more northern owls. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that the equine vaccine that veterinarians, rehabilitators and other avian enthusiasts began using to curb the threat is less than 60% effective on birds of prey. As a result, The Owl Foundation has stopped inoculating its birds. Instead, northern owl breeding cages are being covered with mosquito netting (like that found in window screening). This keeps both mosquitoes and hippoboscid flies (large parasitic flies that feed from feather quills) from entering units. No birds have died of the virus at The Owl Foundation in 2003 and 2004.

In 2003, The Owl Foundation worked with the Ontario Veterinary College to further our understanding of how and why this virus affects owl species. Our new Isolation Complex was crucial for this important research endeavour.

Dr. Ady Gancz published his findings:

  1. "West Nile Virus Outbreak in North American Owls, Ontario, 2002"
  2. "Detecting West Nile Virus in Owls and Raptors by an Antigen-capture Assay"

    Read our fall 2002 update for our sponsors and members here.

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