Advancing the health and well-being of animals and people

Fellow: Andrew Cushing
Mentor: Noha Abou-Madi

Department of Clinical Science
Email:, Phone: 607-339-6274
Sponsor: American Association of Zoo Veterinarians
Grant Number: N/A
Title: The passage of West Nile Virus Antibodies into Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) Progeny and Applications to Vaccination Protocols
Annual Direct Cost: $2,372
Project Period: 06/01/2013- 05/30/2014

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): West Nile virus (WNV; genus Flavivirus) infection is a significant disease of avian species and has been implicated in mortality events around the world, including Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti). Humboldt penguins are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List with an ongoing, declining population. Responses to the commercially available WNV vaccines in avian species have been shown to have mixed efficacy, although studies in Humboldt’s with a killed WNV product suggests an adequate conversion rate to make vaccination useful. In addition, passage of maternal antibodies to both eggs and chicks has been demonstrated in different studies, utilizing alternative avian species. Preliminary data obtained from our pilot study (n=3) shows that maternal WNV maternal antibodies are transmitted to the egg. It has also been shown that the presence of maternal antibodies within various species chick species can adversely affect the efficacy of vaccination. The objectives of the study are to 1) determine if there is a correlation between maternal WNV antibody titers in Humboldt penguins and those that are found within the egg and progeny; 2) assess the effect of the use of WNV vaccination in the hen prior to lay on egg and subsequent chick titers, as well as the deterioration of the maternal antibodies in chicks; 3) formulate a recommended vaccination protocol for both adult and young birds based on the findings This will provide a platform for numerous institutions housing these and related species of penguins, to guard against the potentially devastating effects of this disease in this species.