Vet Med Sci

. 2023 Sep 28.
doi: 10.1002/vms3.1281. Online ahead of print. Ecological characterization of 175 low-pathogenicity avian influenza viruses isolated from wild birds in Mongolia, 2009-2013 and 2016-2018

Ariunbaatar Barkhasbaatar 1 , Martin Gilbert 2 , Amanda E Fine 3 , Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba 1 , Batchuluun Damdinjav 4 , Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar 1 , Bodisaikhan Khishgee 5 , Christine K Johnson 6 , Connie Y H Leung 7 , Ulaankhuu Ankhanbaatar 4 , Dulam Purevtseren 4 , James M Tuttle 8 , Jonna A K Mazet 9 , Joseph S Malik Peiris 10 , Losolmaa Jambal 1 , Munkhduuren Shatar 4 , Tuvshintugs Sukhbaatar 11 , Sarah H Olson 3


Background: Since 2005, highly pathogenic avian influenza A H5N1 viruses have spread from Asia worldwide, infecting poultry, humans and wild birds. Subsequently, global interest in avian influenza (AI) surveillance increased.
Objectives: Mongolia presents an opportunity to study viruses in wild birds because the country has very low densities of domestic poultry and supports large concentrations of migratory water birds.
Methods: We conducted AI surveillance in Mongolia over two time periods, 2009-2013 and 2016-2018, utilizing environmental fecal sampling. Fresh fecal samples were collected from water bird congregation sites. Hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) subtypes of positive samples were identified through viral isolation or molecular assays, with pathogenicity determined by HA subtype or sequencing the HA cleavage site.
Results: A total of 10,222 samples were collected. Of these, 7,025 fecal samples were collected from 2009 to 2013, and 3,197 fecal samples were collected from 2016 to 2018. Testing revealed 175 (1.7%) positive samples for low-pathogenicity influenza A, including 118 samples from 2009 to 2013 (1.7%) and 57 samples from 2016 to 2018 (1.8%). HA and NA subtyping of all positives identified 11 subtypes of HA and nine subtypes of NA in 29 different combinations. Within periods, viruses were detected more frequently during the fall season than in the early summer.
Conclusion: Mongolia's critical wild bird habitat is positioned as a crossroad of multiple migratory flyways. Our work demonstrates the feasibility of using an affordable environmental fecal sampling approach for AI surveillance and contributes to understanding the prevalence and ecology of low-pathogenicity avian influenza viruses in this important location, where birds from multiple flyways mix.

Keywords: Avian influenza; Mongolia; characterization; low pathogenicity; wild birds.