Avian bornaviruses, recently described members of the family Bornaviridae, have been isolated from captive parrots and passerines as well as wild waterfowl in which they may cause lethal neurologic disease. We report detection of avian bornavirus RNA in the brains of apparently healthy gulls. We tested 439 gull brain samples from 18 states, primarily in the northeastern US, using a reverse-transcriptase PCR assay with primers designed to detect a conserved region of the bornavirus M gene. Nine birds yielded a PCR product of appropriate size. Sequencing of PCR products indicated that the virus was closely related to aquatic bird bornavirus 1 (ABBV-1). Viral RNA was detected in Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus), Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis), and Laughing Gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla). Eight of the nine positive birds came from the New York/New Jersey area. One positive Herring Gull came from New Hampshire. Histopathologic examination of one well-preserved brain from a Herring Gull from Union County New Jersey, showed a lymphocytic encephalitis similar to that observed in bornavirus-infected parrots and geese. Bornavirus N protein was confirmed in two Herring Gull brains by immunohistochemistry. Thus ABBV-1 can infect gulls and cause encephalitic brain lesions similar to those observed in other birds.
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Vol. 51 • No. 3