This study looked at the influence of interannual variations in temperature and precipitation on seasonal mosquito abundances, the prevalence of West Nile virus (family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus, WNV) in the northeastern United States, and the capacity for local mosquito communities to maintain and transmit WNV, defined as vector community competence. Vector and virus surveillance took place within Middlesex County in New Jersey over two transmission seasons (2010 and 2011). Drought conditions during the 2010 season were associated with significant increases in the number of blood-fed Culex spp. mosquitoes collected per week, and significant increases in vector community competence, or the ability of local vector communities to transmit WNV, when compared with the wetter and milder 2011 season. These increases were associated with significantly higher weekly WNV infection rates in Culex spp. (i.e., Culex pipiens L. and Culex restuans L.) during the 2010 drought season. On a larger scale, the positive influence of drought on the amplification of WNV was also confirmed at the state level where early seasonal (June-July) increases in temperature and decreases in precipitation were strongly correlated with increases in yearly WNV infection rates over a 9-yr period (2003–2011). These data suggest that there may be clear temperature and precipitation thresholds beyond which epidemic levels of WNV transmission occur.
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Vol. 50 • No. 1