Disentangling the role of poultry farms and wild birds in the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N8 in Europe : [Preprint]

Recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 virus in Europe have caused severe damage to animal health, wildlife conservation and livestock economic sustainability. While epidemiological and phylogenetic studies have generated important clues about the virus spread in Europe, they remained opaque to the specific role of poultry farms and wild birds. Using a phylodynamic framework, we inferred the H5N8 virus transmission dynamics among poultry farms and wild birds in four severely affected countries and investigated drivers of spread between farms across borders during the 2016-17 epidemic. Based on existing genetic data, we showed that the virus was likely introduced into poultry farms during the autumn, in line with the timing of arrival of migratory wild birds. Then, transmission was mainly driven by farm-to-farm transmission in Germany, Hungary and Poland, suggesting that better understanding of how infected farms are connected in those countries would greatly help control efforts. In contrast, the epidemic was dominated by wild bird-to-farm transmission in Czech Republic, meaning that more sustainable prevention strategies should be developed to reduce virus exposure from wild birds. We inferred effective reproduction number Re estimates among poultry farms and wild birds. We expect those estimates being useful to parameterize predictive models of virus spread aiming at optimising control strategies. None of the investigated predictors related to live poultry trade, poultry census and geographic proximity were identified as supportive predictors of the viral spread between farms across borders, suggesting that other drivers should be considered in future studies.

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