Transatlantic spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 by wild birds from Europe to North America in 2021
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses of the A/Goose/Guangdong/1/1996 lineage (GsGd), which threaten the health of poultry, wildlife and humans, are spreading across Asia, Europe, Africa and North America but are currently absent from South America and Oceania. In December 2021, H5N1 HPAI viruses were detected in poultry and a free-living gull in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Our phylogenetic analysis showed that these viruses were most closely related to HPAI GsGd viruses circulating in northwestern Europe in spring 2021. Our analysis of wild bird migration suggested that these viruses may have been carried across the Atlantic via Iceland, Greenland/Arctic or pelagic routes. The here documented incursion of HPAI GsGd viruses into North America raises concern for further virus spread across the Americas by wild bird migration.