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Cardinals vs. West Nile Virus

August 9, 2016

Northern cardinals may help protect people from West Nile Virus.


Robert Engberg CC BY 2.0, via flickr

Northern Cardinals are a common sight around human habitations in southern Canada and the eastern United States. (Robert Engberg CC BY 2.0, via flickr)


Guardian cardinals. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The American Robin is a favorite target of mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus. The virus multiplies rapidly in the birds, and mosquitoes biting them can carry it back to humans. In the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, CDC epidemiologist  Rebecca Levine and her colleagues report that in Atlanta, the mosquitos feed on robins only until July, when they switch to Northern Cardnals.

REBECCA LEVINE (Centers for Disease Control, formerly at Emory University):

And Northern cardinals are not very good at amplifying the virus in their blood. So we think that they may have a role in suppressing West Nile transmission because they’re not as good as robins at amplifying the virus.


She says maintaining habitats that boost cardinal populations could help protect people. More broadly, she and her colleagues would like to understand how environments and species diversity can help prevent the spread of pathogens. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon