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Exploring surface water as a transmission medium of avian influenza viruses – systematic infection studies in mallards

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are an abundant anseriform migratory wild bird species worldwide and an important reservoir for the maintenance of low pathogenicity (LP) avian influenza viruses (AIV). They have also been implicated in the spread of high pathogenicity (HP) AIV after spill-over events from HPAIV-infected poultry. The spread of HPAIV within wild water bird populations may lead to viral contamination of natural habitats. The role of small shallow water bodies as a transmission medium of AIV among mallards is investigated here in three experimental settings. (i) Delayed onset but rapid progression of infection seeded by two mallards inoculated with either LP or HP AIV to each eight sentinel mallards was observed in groups with access to a small 100 L water pool. In contrast, groups with a bell drinker as the sole source of drinking water showed a rapid onset but lengthened course of infection. (ii) HPAIV infection also set off when virus was dispersed in the water pool; titres as low as 102 TCID50 L−1 (translating to 0.1 TCID50 mL−1) proved to be sufficient. (iii) Substantial loads of viral RNA (and infectivity) were also found on the surface of the birds’ breast plumage. “Unloading” of virus infectivity from contaminated plumage into water bodies may be an efficient mechanism of virus spread by infected mallards. However, transposure of HPAIV via the plumage of an uninfected mallard failed. We conclude, surface water in small shallow water bodies may play an important role as a mediator of AIV infection of aquatic wild birds.



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