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Light pollution's effects on birds may help to spread West Nile virus

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  • Light pollution's effects on birds may help to spread West Nile virus

    24 July 2019

    Exposure to artificial light at night has been shown to affect the immune responses of some birds, and now a study has found that light pollution can extend the infectious period of West Nile virus in house sparrows.

    “These birds are a main reservoir of West Nile virus in nature. Mosquitoes will preferentially feed on some of these birds, and they live in urban, light-polluted habitats,” says Meredith Kernbach at the University of South Florida. “They’re likely one of the species that plays a key role in West Nile Virus transmission in light-polluted areas.”

    She and her colleagues captured 45 wild house sparrows at two sites near Tampa Bay, Florida. They housed 22 of them in natural light conditions and 23 of them in artificial light conditions, using warm light similar to that used in homes and street lamps. They exposed all the birds to West Nile virus and then, over the next 10 days, measured their blood samples for infection and their body mass.

    The sparrows housed with artificial light at night remained infectious longer than the birds housed under natural lighting conditions. According to the researchers’ calculations, this makes an outbreak of disease among sparrows 41 per cent more likely if the birds are exposed to artificial light. This, in turn, might make it more likely that the virus could jump to humans via mosquitoes that bite both sparrows and humans.


    This effect could change under different lighting conditions as well, and Kernbach says research into the specific kinds of light that may not affect stress hormones is needed.

    “Addressing chronic disease is an issue of human rights – that must be our call to arms"
    Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief The Lancet

    ~~~~ Twitter:@GertvanderHoek ~~~ ~~~