Antibody duration, following a humoral immune response to West Nile virus (WNV) infection, is poorly understood in free-ranging avian hosts. Quantifying antibody decay rate is important for interpreting serologic results and for understanding the potential for birds to serorevert and become susceptible again. We sampled free-ranging birds in Chicago, Illinois, US, from 2005 to 2011 and Atlanta, Georgia, US, from 2010 to 2012 to examine the dynamics of antibody decay following natural WNV infection. Using serial dilutions in a blocking enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, we quantified WNV antibody titer in repeated blood samples from individual birds over time. We quantified a rate of antibody decay for 23 Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) of 0.198 natural log units per month and 24 individuals of other bird species of 0.178 natural log units per month. Our results suggest that juveniles had a higher rate of antibody decay than adults, which is consistent with nonlinear antibody decay at different times postexposure. Overall, most birds had undetectable titers 2 yr postexposure. Nonuniform WNV antibody decay rates in free-ranging birds underscore the need for cautious interpretation of avian serology results in the context of arbovirus surveillance and epidemiology.
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Vol. 51 • No. 3