Clearing up Culex Confusion A Basis for Virus Vector Discrimination in Europe
Sammanfattning: Mosquito species of the Culex genus are the enzootic vectors for several bird-associated viruses that cause disease in humans. In Europe, these viruses include Sindbis (SINV), West Nile and Usutu viruses. The morphologically similar females of Cx. torrentium and Cx. pipiens are potential vectors of these viruses, but difficulties in correctly identifying the mosquito species have caused confusion regarding their respective distribution, abundance, ecology, and consequently their importance as vectors. Species-specific knowledge from correctly identified field material is however of crucial importance since previous research shows that the relatively unknown Cx. torrentium is a far more efficient SINV vector than the widely recognized Cx. pipiens. The latter is involved in the transmission of several other viruses, but its potential importance for SINV transmission is debated.In this thesis I describe the development of a molecular method for species identification, based on reliably identified males of Cx. torrentium and Cx. pipiens. This identification method was then used in consecutive studies on the distribution and relative abundance of the two species in Sweden and 12 other European countries, SINV field infection rates in mosquitoes identified to species level, and evaluation of potential trap bias associated with common sampling techniques.The results showed that Cx. torrentium is a far more common species in Europe than previously assumed. In Sweden and Finland, it is the dominant species, accounting for 89% of the sampled Culex population. In central Europe, it is equally common to Cx. pipiens, while Cx. pipiens dominates south of the Alps Mountain range. Larvae of both species are often found together in both artificial containers (e.g. car tires) and natural sites. Also, a trapping bias against Cx. torrentium was revealed for CDC-traps. For the first time, SINV was isolated from species-identified Cx. torrentium and Cx. pipiens mosquitoes caught in the field, with Cx. torrentium being superior in infection rates (36/1,000 vs. 8.2/1,000). Future studies on SINV, as well as other mosquito-borne bird viruses in Europe, can hopefully gain from the baseline information provided here, and from principles of vector discrimination discussed in the thesis.
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