Competition between Usutu virus and West Nile virus during simultaneous and sequential infection of Culex pipiens mosquitoes

Haidong Wang, Sandra R. Abbo, Tessa M. Visser, Marcel Westenberg, Corinne Geertsema, Jelke J. Fros, Constantianus J.M. Koenraadt, Gorben P. Pijlman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Usutu virus (USUV) and West Nile virus (WNV) are closely related mosquito-borne flaviviruses that are mainly transmitted between bird hosts by vector mosquitoes. Infections in humans are incidental but can cause severe disease. USUV is endemic in large parts of Europe, while WNV mainly circulates in Southern Europe. In recent years, WNV is also frequently detected in Northern Europe, thereby expanding the area where both viruses co-circulate. However, it remains unclear how USUV may affect the future spread of WNV and the likelihood of human co-infection. Here we investigated whether co-infections with both viruses in cell lines and their primary mosquito vector, Culex pipiens, affect virus replication and transmission dynamics. We show that USUV is outcompeted by WNV in mammalian, avian and mosquito cells during co-infection. Mosquitoes that were exposed to both viruses simultaneously via infectious blood meal displayed significantly reduced USUV transmission compared to mosquitoes that were only exposed to USUV (from 15% to 3%), while the infection and transmission of WNV was unaffected. In contrast, when mosquitoes were pre-infected with USUV via infectious blood meal, WNV transmission was significantly reduced (from 44% to 17%). Injection experiments established the involvement of the midgut in the observed USUV-mediated WNV inhibition. The competition between USUV and WNV during co-infection clearly indicates that the chance of concurrent USUV and WNV transmission via a single mosquito bite is low. The competitive relation between USUV and WNV may impact virus transmission dynamics in the field and affect the epidemiology of WNV in Europe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2642-2652
Number of pages11
JournalEmerging Microbes and Infections
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2020


  • competition
  • mosquito
  • Usutu virus
  • vector competence
  • West Nile virus


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