mBio


. 2023 Sep 28;e0086223.
doi: 10.1128/mbio.00862-23. Online ahead of print. Environmental transmission of influenza A virus in mallards

Kim M Pepin 1 , Clinton B Leach 2 , Nicole L Barrett 1 , Jeremy W Ellis 1 , Kaci K VanDalen 1 , Colleen T Webb 3 , Susan A Shriner 1



AffiliationsFree article Abstract

Influenza A viruses present a major challenge for animal and human health. They circulate widely in wild waterfowl and frequently spillover into poultry, emphasizing the need for risk-based surveillance in wild birds and an understanding of the relative importance of different transmission mechanisms. We addressed this objective with a replicated (N = 6) experimental infection study in which we serially exposed eight cohorts of four naïve contact mallards to an experimentally infected mallard and a shared water pool. Viral concentration in the water was a better predictor of transmission than several direct measures of viral shedding in the focal duck. Our data provide quantification of transmission probability and its variation throughout the infectious period of an infected duck. Our findings highlight the need to consider environmental surveillance in risk-based surveillance planning and provide realistic parameters for identifying optimal control strategies using epidemiological inference. IMPORTANCE Wild birds are the natural reservoir hosts of influenza A viruses. Highly pathogenic strains of influenza A viruses pose risks to wild birds, poultry, and human health. Thus, understanding how these viruses are transmitted between birds is critical. We conducted an experiment where we experimentally infected mallards which are ducks that are commonly exposed to influenza viruses. We exposed several contact ducks to the experimentally infected duck to estimate the probability that a contact duck would become infected from either exposure to the virus shed directly from the infected duck or shared water contaminated with the virus from the infected duck. We found that environmental transmission from contaminated water best predicted the probability of transmission to naïve contact ducks, relatively low levels of virus in the water were sufficient to cause infection, and the probability of a naïve duck becoming infected varied over time.

Keywords: Anas platyrhynchos; avian influenza; environmental transmission; infectious dose; influenza A; mallard; wild bird.