Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Lillian M. Stark, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Azliyati Azizan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roger Sanderson, M.A.


arboviruses, alphaviruses, hai, igm elisa, prnt, surveillance


Florida's mild climate supports year round enzootic transmission of arthropod-borne (arbo) viruses, such as St. Louis Encephalitis virus (SLEV), West Nile virus (WNV), and Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis virus (EEEV). First isolated in 1960 from two Florida blue jays, Highlands J virus (HJV) is endemic to the state and vectored by the same mosquitoes as EEEV (Henderson et al, 1962). EEEV and HJV are both alphaviruses, but HJV is not pathogenic to humans, occasionally causes encephalitis in horses, and is a recognized pathogen in some bird species (turkeys, emus, etc) (Cilnis et al, 1996).

The Florida Sentinel Chicken Arboviral Surveillance Program, established in 1978, utilizes sentinel chickens to detect arboviral activity throughout the state. Current serologic antibody detection methods include the hemagglutination inhibition (HAI), IgM antibody capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent (MAC-ELISA), and serum neutralization plaque reduction (PRNT) assays (Blackmore et al, 2003).

In 2003, sentinel chickens detected significantly greater alphavirus activity than seen in the previous 15 years (Stark & Kazanis, 2003). This increase raised concerns that bridging into the human population had become a serious threat as well as an important issue for veterinary health. The objective of this study was to determine if cross-reactions with Highlands J virus were impacting the serologic diagnostic tests routinely performed for identification of EEEV.

For 2003, the HAI test detected 476 alphavirus positive sentinels. We tested 316 of these chickens in the PRNT, which identified 176 EEEV positive sentinels and 75 HJV positive sentinels. Our results indicate that Highlands J virus is extensively cross-reactive in the HAI test and that the MAC-ELISA is more specific for the detection of antibodies solely to EEEV. We demonstrated that EEEV antibody titers in the HAI test were positively correlated to antibody titers in the PRNT assay. Analysis of alphaviral activity by county indicates widespread transmission of HJV across the northern and panhandle regions of the state; however EEEV activity was greater than HJV activity in all but four counties.

Consequently, distinguishing between the two agents can reduce the expenditure of resources on unnecessary vector control and medical alerts to protect the public health from Highlands J virus.