Carcasses of 13 red-tailed hawks (RTHAs) and 11 Cooper's hawks (COHAs) were tested for West Nile virus (WNV) using WNV-specific reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) on fresh brain tissue and WNV-specific immunohistochemistry (IHC) on various organs. Ten COHAs (91%) and 11 RTHAs (85%) were positive for WNV RNA by RT-PCR. All 11 COHAs (100%) and 10 RTHAs (77%) were positive for WNV antigen by IHC. A triad of inflammatory lesions, including chronic lymphoplasmacytic and histiocytic encephalitis, endophthalmitis, and myocarditis, was common in both species. In COHAs, the heart (54%), cerebrum (50%), and eye (45%) were the organs that most commonly contained WNV antigen. The amount of WNV antigen was usually small. In RTHAs, the kidney (38%), cerebrum (38%), cerebellum (38%), and eye (36%) were the organs most commonly containing WNV antigen. Unlike COHAs, larger amounts of WNV antigen were present in the cerebrum of RTHAs. WNV antigen was detected in similar cell populations in both species, including neurons of brain, spinal cord, and retina, pigmented epithelial cells of the retina, epithelial cells of renal medullary tubules, cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells of arteries, dendritic cells of splenic lymph follicles, exocrine pancreatic cells, adrenal cells, and keratinocytes of the skin. The study presents strong evidence that WNV can cause a chronic fatal disease in RTHAs and COHAs. The lesion distribution of WNV infection in both species is variable, but inflammatory lesions are common, and a triad of lesions including encephalitis, myocarditis, and endophthalmitis is indicative of WNV infection in both species.
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Vol. 48 • No. 3