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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mapping the risk of avian influenza in wild birds in the US

Trevon L Fuller1*, Sassan S Saatchi12, Emily E Curd13, Erin Toffelmier1, Henri A Thomassen1, Wolfgang Buermann14, David F DeSante5, Mark P Nott5, James F Saracco5, CJ Ralph6, John D Alexander7, John P Pollinger1 and Thomas B Smith13

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Tropical Research, Institute of the Environment, University of California, Los Angeles, La Kretz Hall, Suite 300, Box 951496, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1496, USA

2 Radar Science Technical Group, Radar Science & Engineering Section, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109-8099, USA

3 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, 621 Charles E. Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606, USA

4 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565, USA

5 The Institute for Bird Populations, P.O. Box 1346, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956-1346, USA

6 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Redwood Sciences Laboratory, 1700 Bayview Drive, Arcata, CA 95521, USA

7 Klamath Bird Observatory, P.O. Box 758, Ashland, OR 97520, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2010, 10:187  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-187

Published: 23 June 2010

Abstract

Background

Avian influenza virus (AIV) is an important public health issue because pandemic influenza viruses in people have contained genes from viruses that infect birds. The H5 and H7 AIV subtypes have periodically mutated from low pathogenicity to high pathogenicity form. Analysis of the geographic distribution of AIV can identify areas where reassortment events might occur and how high pathogenicity influenza might travel if it enters wild bird populations in the US. Modelling the number of AIV cases is important because the rate of co-infection with multiple AIV subtypes increases with the number of cases and co-infection is the source of reassortment events that give rise to new strains of influenza, which occurred before the 1968 pandemic. Aquatic birds in the orders Anseriformes and Charadriiformes have been recognized as reservoirs of AIV since the 1970s. However, little is known about influenza prevalence in terrestrial birds in the order Passeriformes. Since passerines share the same habitat as poultry, they may be more effective transmitters of the disease to humans than aquatic birds. We analyze 152 passerine species including the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus).

Methods

We formulate a regression model to predict AIV cases throughout the US at the county scale as a function of 12 environmental variables, sampling effort, and proximity to other counties with influenza outbreaks. Our analysis did not distinguish between types of influenza, including low or highly pathogenic forms.

Results

Analysis of 13,046 cloacal samples collected from 225 bird species in 41 US states between 2005 and 2008 indicates that the average prevalence of influenza in passerines is greater than the prevalence in eight other avian orders. Our regression model identifies the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest as high-risk areas for AIV. Highly significant predictors of AIV include the amount of harvested cropland and the first day of the year when a county is snow free.

Conclusions

Although the prevalence of influenza in waterfowl has long been appreciated, we show that 22 species of song birds and perching birds (order Passeriformes) are influenza reservoirs in the contiguous US.