Open Access Research article

Spillover of pH1N1 to swine in Cameroon: an investigation of risk factors

Brenda Larison12*, Kevin Y Njabo1, Anthony Chasar1, Trevon Fuller1, Ryan J Harrigan1 and Thomas B Smith12

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Tropical Research, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, 619 Charles E. Young Drive East, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA

2 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, 610 Charles E. Young Drive South, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA

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BMC Veterinary Research 2014, 10:55  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-10-55

Published: 4 March 2014

Abstract

Background

The 2009 pH1N1 influenza pandemic resulted in at least 18,500 deaths worldwide. While pH1N1 is now considered to be in a post-pandemic stage in humans it has nevertheless spilled back into swine in at least 20 countries. Understanding the factors that increase the risk of spillover events between swine and humans is essential to predicting and preventing future outbreaks. We assessed risk factors that may have led to spillover of pH1N1 from humans to swine in Cameroon, Central Africa. We sampled swine, domestic poultry and wild birds for influenza A virus at twelve sites in Cameroon from December 2009 while the pandemic was ongoing, to August 2012. At the same time we conducted point-count surveys to assess the abundance of domestic livestock and wild birds and assess interspecific contact rates. Random forest models were used to assess which variables were the best predictors of influenza in swine.

Results

We found swine with either active pH1N1 infections or positive for influenza A at four of our 12 sites. Only one swine tested positive by competitive ELISA in 2011-2012. To date we have found pH1N1 only in the North and Extreme North regions of Cameroon (regions in Cameroon are administrative units similar to provinces), though half of our sites are in the Central and Western regions. Swine husbandry practices differ between the North and Extreme North regions where it is common practice in to let swine roam freely, and the Central and Western regions where swine are typically confined to pens. Random forest analyses revealed that the three best predictors of the presence of pH1N1 in swine were contact rates between free-ranging swine and domestic ducks, contact rates between free-ranging swine and wild Columbiformes, and contact rates between humans and ducks. Sites in which swine were allowed to range freely had closer contact with other species than did sites in which swine were kept penned.

Conclusions

Results suggest that the practice of allowing swine to roam freely is a significant risk factor for spillover of influenza from humans into swine populations.