Summary Japanese encephalitis (JE) is endemic in Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu, where Culex tritaeniorhynchus Giles was the major vector. We screened 45 100 adult female Cx. tritaeniorhynchus (902 pools) by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and isolated and confirmed JE virus (JEV) by using an insect bioassay system. We had 69 isolates of which 62 (90%) were identified as JEV. The average vector abundance per man hour for Cx. tritaeniorhynchus was 324.5 per month for the period June 1998–May 2000. The average minimum infection rate (MIR) per month in Cx. tritaeniorhynchus was 1.4 (range 0.0–5.6). Every year, a new batch of goats, 20 in the first year and 31 in the second year, born during the non-JE transmission period (January–June), aged <6 months and negative for haemagglutination inhibition (HI) antibodies were procured and placed in the villages as sentinels. Fortnightly, blood specimens were collected from these goats and tested for JE antibodies by HI test. Seroconversions (SCs) were recorded in 14 goats (70%) in the first year and 23 goats (74%) in the second year. JE HI antibody titres in goats were low (1:10–1:80) and these levels declined to undetectable levels in about 4 weeks following SCs. The time sequence of events indicated that four of five peaks of MIR in mosquitoes were followed 1–3 months later by peaks in the proportion of seroconverted goats. We suggest the screening of goats and cattle as a more feasible tool to stratify areas according to JE infection risk to the human population through the regular health system rather than screening mosquitoes using monoclonal antibodies, which is possible only in specialized laboratories.