Drought identified as key to severity of West Nile virus epidemics
A study led by UC Santa Cruz researchers has found that drought dramatically increases the severity of West Nile virus epidemics in the United States, although populations affected by large outbreaks acquire immunity that limits the size of subsequent epidemics.
The study, published February 8 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, involved researchers from UC Santa Cruz, Stanford University, and the New York State Department of Health. They analyzed 15 years of data on human West Nile virus infections from across the United States and found that epidemics were much larger in drought years and in regions that had not suffered large epidemics in the past.
"We found that drought was the dominant weather variable correlated with the size of West Nile virus epidemics," said first author Sara Paull, who led the study as a post-doctoral researcher at UC Santa Cruz and is now at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
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Photo: Culex pipiens is among the mosquito species that are important in transmitting West Nile virus in North America. (Photo by Joseph Hoyt)