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Investigating Environmental Matrices for Use in Avian Influenza Virus Surveillance—Surface Water, Sediments, and Avian Fecal Samples

Surveillance of avian influenza viruses (AIV) in wild water bird populations is important for early warning to protect poultry from incursions of high-pathogenicity (HP) AIV. Access to individual water birds is difficult and restricted and limits sampling depth. Here, we focused on environmental samples such as surface water, sediments, and environmentally deposited fresh avian feces as matrices for AIV detection. Enrichment of viral particles by ultrafiltration of 10-L surface water samples using Rexeed-25-A devices was validated using a bacteriophage ϕ6 internal control system, and AIV detection was attempted using real-time RT-PCR and virus isolation. While validation runs suggested an average enrichment of about 60-fold, lower values of 10 to 15 were observed for field water samples. In total 25/36 (60%) of water samples and 18/36 (50%) of corresponding sediment samples tested AIV positive. Samples were obtained from shallow water bodies in habitats with large numbers of waterfowl during an HPAIV epizootic. Although AIV RNA was detected in a substantial percentage of samples virus isolation failed. Virus loads in samples often were too low to allow further sub- and pathotyping. Similar results were obtained with environmentally deposited avian feces. Moreover, the spectrum of viruses detected by these active surveillance methods did not fully mirror an ongoing HPAIV epizootic among waterfowl as detected by passive surveillance, which, in terms of sensitivity, remains unsurpassed.



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