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Dead Bird Avian Flu Concept

Which hen species are tremendous spreaders of avian influenza? New analysis from Tufts College affords particulars.

A brand new research from researchers at Tufts College particulars which species are tremendous spreaders.

Relating to avian influenza, extra generally known as hen flu, all birds usually are not created equal.

“The scientific group has turn out to be accustomed to talking about influenza viruses in birds as a gaggle, however birds are an extremely various taxa of animals with totally different pure historical past, physiology, and anatomy,” says Jonathan Runstadler, professor and chair of the Division of Infectious Illness & International Well being at Cummings Faculty of Veterinary Drugs at Tufts College.

Runstadler is likely one of the authors of a brand new analysis research, revealed at this time (Might 19, 2022) within the journal PLOS Pathogens, which takes a data-driven take a look at influenza viruses circulating amongst totally different teams of birds and characterizes which sorts of birds are concerned in spreading the virus. The timing of this paper is impeccable, as a extremely pathogenic pressure of hen flu has been spreading throughout North America.

Great Horned Owl

Through the present outbreak of extremely pathogenic avian influenza, nice horned owls are among the many species which have examined constructive. Pictured: a terrific horned owl is handled at Tufts Wildlife Clinic in 2019 (for accidents unrelated to avian influenza). Credit score: Alonso Nichols/Tufts College

This lineage of hen flu originated round 1996 and was first present in a home goose in China. The virus mutated and endured, and the primary massive wild hen outbreak occurred round 2005 in a significant wetland in central Asia. Subsequent adjustments within the virus led to a 2014 introduction to the U.S. by way of the Pacific Northwest, severely affecting the U.S. poultry trade and forcing the culling of about 40 million turkeys and chickens as a management measure.

Influenza A virus subtype H5N1 (A/H5N1) is a subtype of the influenza A virus that may trigger sickness in people and plenty of different animal species. A bird-adapted pressure of H5N1, known as HPAI A(H5N1) for extremely pathogenic avian influenza virus of sort A of subtype H5N1, is the extremely pathogenic causative agent of H5N1 flu, generally often called avian influenza or “hen flu.”

“It was an enormous blow,” says Nichola Hill, lead writer of the paper and an assistant professor of biology on the College of Massachusetts Boston, who labored in Runstadler’s lab at Cummings Faculty for practically 5 years. “After it ended, we knew that we had been between outbreaks and there was a excessive chance of an outbreak occurring once more. We felt we wanted to take a look at long-term, historic information to search out patterns and decide which birds are actually driving the worldwide unfold. So we in contrast birds at a finer taxonomic scale than prior research comparable to wild geese, gulls, land birds, and geese versus home poultry like chickens, and we got here up with some actually fascinating findings.”

Traditionally, geese like mallards have been thought of super-spreaders of avian influenza, infecting wild birds and yard poultry alike, and Hill and Runstadler’s analysis discovered that to be broadly true. Dabbling geese are highly effective autos for spreading the virus and for the evolution of the virus within the wild hen reservoir. They’ll carry extremely pathogenic strains and be utterly asymptomatic, plus they swim and fly to allow them to transfer the virus in a wide range of methods, together with into native water our bodies.

However there are different birds that play a extra substantial function in transmitting the virus. “After we checked out which birds had been answerable for spillover into poultry, indicators pointed to wild geese, that are actually good at amplifying the virus,” Hill says. “We have to perceive why by way of their host pathology, immunity, habits, and ecology.”

Western Sandpipers

A feeding frenzy of western sandpipers (Calidris mauri) through the mass migration by way of Cordova, Alaska – a key research web site within the paper. Credit score: Wendy Puryear

One ecological issue that will play a task is that geese are land grazers and thrive in cities and agricultural settings. Many goose species in North America and Europe are thought of pests. “They are surely the proper spillover host as a result of they’ll make use of human-altered habitat,” Hill provides.

Moreover, understanding which birds drive long-distance unfold could affect how or when the virus enters a brand new geographic area. For instance, the 2014 outbreak entered the USA by way of the Pacific, seemingly carried by geese, however the present outbreak moved in by way of the Atlantic, and geese could not have been concerned to the identical extent.

“The primary wild hen detections in 2021 had been nice black-backed gulls,” says Hill. “Gulls are robust, long-distance, pelagic fliers that reap the benefits of tailwinds to journey over ocean and transfer the virus in a short time.”

An outbreak of hen flu of this measurement and scale has by no means been seen earlier than in North America. About 40 species of birds have turn out to be contaminated within the present North American outbreak, together with songbirds like crows and sparrows, in addition to raptors like owls and hawks. This outbreak has a much bigger geographic vary and is impacting a broader variety of species in comparison with the 2014 outbreak in North America.

“Figuring out that gulls, geese and geese could also be transferring this virus in several methods is an enormous contribution to understanding or ultimately modeling with extra accuracy how we expect a virus like this to spread,” says Runstadler. “Ultimately, we could put this data into a model that allows us to predict if there’s a virus emerging, when that virus might enter North America, and what bird populations we might target for surveillance to detect it.”

Clinic Collaboration

Runstadler has been researching avian influenza since 2005, when his lab was located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the H5N1 strain of the virus was emerging in East Asia. The scientists in his lab study the ecology of influenza viruses in wild animal hosts, including birds, which are major reservoirs for influenza. Runstadler says most flu viruses are thought to have originated in birds and spread to other hosts.

Runstadler’s lab regularly collaborates with Tufts Wildlife Clinic and director Maureen Murray, clinical associate professor at Cummings School, to gather samples from a variety of birds coming through the clinic, not just the ones showing clinical signs of avian influenza. The goal is twofold: to understand the epidemiology of the virus and manage avian influenza cases safely in the clinic.

“When we admit new birds to the clinic, we sample them to see if they’re carrying the virus and isolate them until we get a negative test to make sure we’re not exposing our other patients to the virus,” says Murray.

The samples are screened at Runstadler’s lab to determine whether a bird is carrying an influenza virus, and if so, whether it’s the H5 strain responsible for outbreaks. Runstadler notes this exercise to gather data now is critical for comparison with data in the future. If a bird tests positive, the sample is sent to the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory for additional testing and sequencing as a final confirmation.

“We’ve seen some positive birds come through the clinic, including great horned owls, snowy owls, a bald eagle, and a peregrine falcon,” Murray says, “but fortunately, not a lot of cases.”

Risk to Humans

Though avian influenza is zoonotic, the risk to people is very low. Runstadler says there is practically zero threat to the average person going about their daily lives. It is of slightly more risk to people who handle birds regularly, such as wildlife professionals, poultry workers, or backyard chicken owners.

Recently, a man in Colorado was diagnosed with avian influenza, marking the first human case in North America during this outbreak. Media reports indicated he was involved with culling poultry and infected by a sick bird. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he had mild symptoms, was isolated, and recovered. The fact that his symptoms were mild is paradoxically concerning because, Hill notes, it makes the virus harder to detect and track, as infected individuals may ignore mild symptoms and not seek treatment—much like COVID-19.

Murray and the Wildlife Clinic staff wear personal protective equipment when handling birds, which includes gloves, isolation gowns, goggles, and masks. And they have a list of recommendations for the public regarding avian influenza protection.

“If you see a bird that seems to be sick—it can’t stand up, looks off balance, or isn’t aware of its surroundings—we recommend first calling your local animal control officer or a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance,” Murray says. “But if you must handle it yourself, we recommend wearing at minimum a three-ply face mask, or a more protective mask if available, such as an N95. Gloves are also a good idea, but if they’re not available, wash your hands really, really well afterward.”

She adds that people who have birds at home should change their clothes and shoes after touching the sick bird and before going near their own birds.

Hill is not only concerned about human spillover, but with mammalian spillover in general. She points to animals such as dogs, foxes or coyotes that may predate on birds, especially vulnerable ones showing neurological symptoms or in respiratory distress. It’s unclear at this point what the result of those interactions could be, though infections in red foxes have already been reported in the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands.

Will This Outbreak End?

“The short answer is nobody knows,” Runstadler says, “because we don’t have a sophisticated enough understanding though we hope someday we will. It’s a very complex system.”

The 2014 bird flu incursion gradually fizzled out, but that’s not likely to happen this time, he says, because the 2022 incursion is quite different from the last outbreak. The viruses identified in North America in 2014 contained pieces of the highly pathogenic H5 viruses, but not the whole virus, like this outbreak. Also, this incursion seemingly has spread faster than the last one. In addition, Hill says her research has shown a pattern of the scale and magnitude of bird flu outbreaks increasing over time.

“There’s reason to expect this virus is here to stay, and it’s not going to disappear,” says Runstadler.

Reference: “Ecological divergence of wild birds drives avian influenza spillover and global spread” by Nichola J. Hill, Mary Anne Bishop, Nídia S. Trovão, Katherine M. Ineson, Anne L. Schaefer, Wendy B. Puryear, Katherine Zhou, Alexa D. Foss, Daniel E. Clark, Kenneth G. MacKenzie, Jonathon D. Gass Jr., Laura K. Borkenhagen, Jeffrey S. Hall and Jonathan A. Runstadler, 19 May 2022, PLOS Pathogens.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010062

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