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Between 2001 and 2005 the massive black bird mortality in eastern Austria received wide public attention. Usutu virus, the aetiological agent, belongs to the flavivirus family, together with tick-borne encephalitis-, West Nile- and Dengue viruses. Since then no Usutu virus associated bird mortality was observed in Austria, while in other European countries such as Hungary a small number of Usutu virus-positive wild birds was diagnosed in each year. The epidemiological situation changed significantly in 2016, when Usutu virus wild bird die-off was reported from various European countries including 12 cases from Hungary and two from Austria.
A team of researchers from the Vetmeduni Vienna investigated genetically the virus strains which circulated in Hungary since 2010 and in Austria in 2016. In 2014, the Austrian Red Cross, Blood Service for Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland, initiated regular screening of all blood donated between 1 June and 30 November each year for West Nile virus by a nucleic acid test. Interestingly, one positive sample in 2016 and six blood donations in 2017 turned out to be infected by Usutu virus and not by West Nile virus.
Years - Absence - Year - Reemergence - Usutu
"We were surprised to see after 10 years of absence last year the reemergence of Usutu virus in Austria. Also other European countries reported last year widespread Usutu virus activity," says the principal investigator Norbert Nowotny from the Institute of Virology. "We therefore investigated the genetic set-up of the Austrian and Hungarian viruses in order to enhance our understanding which virus strains are currently active in the regions and from where they have been introduced." The viruses identified in Hungary between 2010 and 2015 were closely related to the "original" virus strain that was responsible for the blackbird die-off in Austria from 2001 to 2005. However, the viruses found in 2016 in both countries turned out to be...
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