Role for migratory wild birds in the global spread of avian influenza H5N8

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Science  14 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6309, pp. 213-217
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8852

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Migration of influenza in wild birds

Virus surveillance in wild birds could offer an early warning system that, combined with adequate farm hygiene, would lead to effective influenza control in poultry units. The Global Consortium for H5N8 and Related Influenza Viruses found that the H5 segment common to the highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses readily reassorts with other influenza viruses (see the Perspective by Russell). H5 is thus a continual source of new pathogenic variants. These data also show that the H5N8 virus that recently caused serious outbreaks in European and North American poultry farms came from migrant ducks, swans, and geese that meet at their Arctic breeding grounds. Because the virus is so infectious, culling wild birds is not an effective control measure.

Science, this issue p. 213; see also p. 174


Avian influenza viruses affect both poultry production and public health. A subtype H5N8 (clade virus, following an outbreak in poultry in South Korea in January 2014, rapidly spread worldwide in 2014–2015. Our analysis of H5N8 viral sequences, epidemiological investigations, waterfowl migration, and poultry trade showed that long-distance migratory birds can play a major role in the global spread of avian influenza viruses. Further, we found that the hemagglutinin of clade virus was remarkably promiscuous, creating reassortants with multiple neuraminidase subtypes. Improving our understanding of the circumpolar circulation of avian influenza viruses in migratory waterfowl will help to provide early warning of threats from avian influenza to poultry, and potentially human, health.

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