Kansas University ornithologists recently discovered the West Nile virus is now in bird populations in the Dominican Republic -- the first confirmed case in the Caribbean.
The KU research team announced Thursday that five blood samples from birds collected in November from the Dominican Republic contain antibodies for the virus.
The presence of the antibodies in samples from a remote area on the north coast of the Dominican Republic indicates local transmission of the virus, according to the researchers.
Those on the team included Mark B. Robbins, Oliver Komar and A. Townsend Peterson, all with the KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center.
Robbins said migratory birds have been suspected of transporting the virus over long distances. While birds are the principal hosts, mosquitoes can pass the virus from bird to bird and occasionally to mammals, such as horses and humans.
The discovery indicates that migratory birds may have carried the virus from the eastern U.S., where a West Nile virus outbreak has been going on for the last four years, to the north coast of Hispaniola, the Caribbean island that contains the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the researchers said.
So far there have been no reported cases of West Nile disease among humans in the Dominican Republic.