Objective—To evaluate the safety and efficacy of an experimental adjuvanted DNA-plasmid vaccine against West Nile virus (WNV) in red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis).
Animals—19 permanently disabled but otherwise healthy red-tailed hawks of mixed ages and both sexes without detectable serum antibodies against WNV.
Procedures—Hawks were injected IM with an experimental WNV DNA-plasmid vaccine in an aluminum-phosphate adjuvant (n = 14) or with the adjuvant only (control group; 5). All birds received 2 injections at a 3-week interval. Blood samples for serologic evaluation were collected before the first injection and 4 weeks after the second injection (day 0). At day 0, hawks were injected SC with live WNV. Pre- and postchallenge blood samples were collected at intervals for 14 days for assessment of viremia and antibody determination; oropharyngeal and cloacal swabs were collected for assessment of viral shedding.
Results—Vaccination was not associated with morbidity or deaths. Three of the vaccinated birds seroconverted after the second vaccine injection; all other birds seroconverted following the live virus injection. Vaccinated birds had significantly less severe viremia and shorter and less-intense shedding periods, compared with the control birds.
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Use of the WNV DNA-plasmid vaccine in red-tailed hawks was safe, and vaccination attenuated but did not eliminate both the viremia and the intensity of postchallenge shedding following live virus exposure. Further research is warranted to conclusively determine the efficacy of this vaccine preparation for protection of red-tailed hawks and other avian species against WNV-induced disease.