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Mass mortality among colony-breeding seabirds in the German Wadden Sea in 2022 due to distinct genotypes of HPAIV H5N1 clade

Mass mortality was observed among colony-breeding seabirds in the German Wadden Sea area of the North Sea during the summer months of 2022. Several species’ colonies were affected, most notably sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis), common terns (Sterna hirundo) and Germany’s only northern gannet (Morus bassanus) colony on the island of Heligoland. Mortality in some tern colonies reached 40%, while other colonies were almost spared. In all cases, infections with the high-pathogenicity avian influenza virus (HPAIV) subtype H5N1 of clade were identified to have caused the epidemic. Phylogenetic analysis of whole-genome sequences revealed that the outbreaks were dominated by two genotypes, Ger-10–21 N1.2 and Ger-10–21 N1.5, previously identified in Germany. Spatiotemporal analyses of phylogenetic data suggested that these viruses could have entered the continental North Sea coastal region via the British Isles. A close linkage of viruses from tern colonies in the German Wadden Sea was evident with further connections to breeding colonies in Belgium and the Netherlands, and further spread to Denmark and Poland. Several of the affected species are endangered, such that negative effects of epizootic HPAIV infections on populations are feared, with uncertain long-term consequences.



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