Usutu virus (USUV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus of the Japanese encephalitis virus group, which has been associated with avian mortality in Austria since 2001. The affected birds are predominantly Eurasian blackbirds (Turdus merula). In the present study, the pathogenicity of USUV for domestic geese (Anser anser f. domestica) was investigated. Eleven 2-week-old geese were inoculated intramuscularly with 5 × 104 50% tissue culture infectious dose of USUV strain Vienna-2001 blackbird. No clinical signs were seen during the observation period. Four inoculated and one in-contact geese died without preceding clinical signs. Two of the deaths could be attributed to bacterial septicaemia and strangulation, respectively. The cause of death of two experimental and one in-contact animals remained unclear, but lack of evidence for viral lesions and viral antigen in their tissues argued against association with the USUV infection. Although in organs of the majority of inoculated geese (9/11) USUV was detected by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry for USUV antigen was negative in all tissues of all geese. Evidence of plasma viraemia or viral excretion was found in one goose only. Seroconversion was detected in three inoculated geese 10 days post-inoculation. Geese placed in contact with inoculated geese and control animals did not exhibit USUV in their internal organs or plasma and lacked USUV-specific antibodies. This experiment shows that USUV is able to replicate in geese, but does not induce clinical disease, is unlikely to induce mortality, and only infrequently leads to viraemia or virus shedding.
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