Effect of blood source on vector competence of Culex pipiens biotypes for Usutu virus

Abbo, Sandra R.; Visser, Tessa M.; Koenraadt, Constantianus J.M.; Pijlman, Gorben P.; Wang, Haidong


Background: Infectious blood meal experiments have been frequently performed with different virus-vector combinations to assess the transmission potential of arthropod-borne (arbo)viruses. A wide variety of host blood sources have been used to deliver arboviruses to their arthropod vectors in laboratory studies. The type of blood used during vector competence experiments does not always reflect the blood from the viremic vertebrate hosts in the field, but little is known about the effect of blood source on the experimental outcome of vector competence studies. Here we investigated the effect of avian versus human blood on the infection and transmission rates of the zoonotic Usutu virus (USUV) in its primary mosquito vector Culex pipiens. Methods: Cx. pipiens biotypes (pipiens and molestus) were orally infected with USUV through infectious blood meals containing either chicken or human whole blood. The USUV infection and transmission rates were determined by checking mosquito bodies and saliva for USUV presence after 14 days of incubation at 28 °C. In addition, viral titers were determined for USUV-positive mosquito bodies and saliva. Results: Human and chicken blood lead to similar USUV transmission rates for Cx. pipiens biotype pipiens (18% and 15%, respectively), while human blood moderately but not significantly increased the transmission rate (30%) compared to chicken blood (17%) for biotype molestus. USUV infection rates with human blood were consistently higher in both Cx. pipiens biotypes compared to chicken blood. In virus-positive mosquitoes, USUV body and saliva titers did not differ between mosquitoes taking either human or chicken blood. Importantly, biotype molestus had much lower USUV saliva titers compared to biotype pipiens, regardless of which blood was offered. Conclusions: Infection of mosquitoes with human blood led to higher USUV infection rates as compared to chicken blood. However, the blood source had no effect on the vector competence for USUV. Interestingly, biotype molestus is less likely to transmit USUV compared to biotype pipiens due to very low virus titers in the saliva. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]