How do scientists study avian influenza in wild birds?

To learn more about the impacts of avian influenza on wild birds and the role wild birds may play in the spread of the virus, experts from government agencies have gathered samples from hundreds of thousands of live-captured, apparently healthy wild birds; hunter-harvested birds; and dead wild birds of all species.

Testing methods include analyses of fecal samples and swabs of the bird’s trachea, oropharynx, or cloaca. Tissues can be collected from dead birds.

The majority of the live bird and hunter-harvested avian influenza surveillance programs in the U.S. were discontinued in 2010. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center is focusing on testing sick and dead migratory birds, particularly ducks, geese and swans. This will facilitate early detection, situational awareness, and appropriate response to these viruses.

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Are birds the only species that is susceptible to West Nile Virus infection?

West Nile Virus (WNV) has been detected in at least 48 species of mosquitoes, over 320 species of birds, at least 2 species of reptiles, and more than 25 mammalian species, including horses and humans.

Birds are the natural host and reservoir of WNV.

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Can people get avian influenza?

While rare, human infections with avian influenza viruses have occurred. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to the general public from HPAI H5 infections in wild birds, backyard flocks, and commercial poultry, to be low.

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Can wild birds spread avian influenza to domestic poultry?

Although it is possible for domestic poultry to become infected with avian influenza from direct contact with wild birds, it is more likely that avian influenza viruses are spread indirectly to poultry on contaminated feed, clothing, and equipment.

Agricultural agencies encourage producers to prevent wild birds and

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What is the difference between low pathogenic and highly pathogenic avian influenza?

The designation of low or highly pathogenic avian influenza refers to the potential for these viruses to kill chickens. The designation of “low pathogenic” or “highly pathogenic” does not refer to how infectious the viruses may be to humans, other mammals, or other species of birds.

Most strains of avian influenza

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What is the meaning of the numbers next to the “H” and “N” in avian influenza designations?

Avian influenza (AI) viruses are classified by a combination of two groups of proteins: hemagglutinin or “H” proteins, of which there are 16 (H1 to H16), and neuraminidase or “N” proteins, of which there are nine (N1 to N9).

Many different combinations of “H” and “N” proteins are possible. Each combination is

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What are the different types of avian influenza?

Avian Influenza (AI) type A viruses are divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the surface of the virus:

  • Hemagglutinin (HA), of which there are 16 subtypes (H1-H16)
  • Neuraminidase (NA), of which there are 9 subtypes (N1-N9)
  • Many combinations of HA and NA proteins are possible (i.e., H5N1
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What is Avian Influenza?

Avian influenza (AI) is caused by an influenza type A virus that can infect poultry such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl. It is carried by wild waterfowl (ducks and geese) and shorebirds.

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What is chronic wasting disease?

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal, neurological illness occurring in North American cervids (members of the deer family), including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose. Since its discovery in 1967, CWD has spread

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What is White-nose Syndrome?

White-nose syndrome is an emergent disease of hibernating bats that has spread from the northeastern to the central United States at an alarming rate. Since the winter of 2007-2008, millions of insect-eating bats in at least 29 states and five Canadian provinces have died from this devastating disease. The disease is named

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Date published: December 4, 2017

Avian Flu From Abroad Can Spread in North American Poultry, Wild Birds

Some avian influenza, or bird flu, viruses that are able to enter North America from other continents through migrating birds can be deadly to poultry and can infect waterfowl populations, according to a recently published U.S. Geological Survey study.

Date published: July 18, 2017

Unusual Suspects: Diving Ducks and Avian influenza

Due to the global threat to health and human safety posed by avian influenza monitoring has been conducted in the United States to determine the prevalence of such viruses in our wild waterfowl.

Date published: July 18, 2017

Unusual Suspects: Diving Ducks and Avian influenza

Due to the global threat to health and human safety posed by avian influenza monitoring has been conducted in the United States to determine the prevalence of such viruses in our wild waterfowl.

Date published: May 1, 2017

Avian Flu Testing of Wild Ducks Informs Biosecurity and Can Reduce Economic Loss

Ducks in North America can be carriers of avian influenza viruses similar to those found in a 2016 outbreak in Indiana that led to the losses of hundreds of thousands of chickens and turkeys, according to a recent study.

Date published: April 5, 2016

Alaska Still a Likely Portal for Avian Influenza

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The U.S. Geological Survey released additional evidence that western Alaska remains a hot spot for avian influenza to enter North America. 

Date published: January 23, 2015

USGS Statement Regarding Avian Flu Found in Washington State Green-Winged Teal

Some media are reporting that the Asian H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza has now entered the United States. This is incorrect.

Date published: March 19, 2014

North Atlantic May Be a New Route for Spread of Avian Flu to North America

The North Atlantic region is a newly discovered important pathway for avian influenza to move between Europe and North America, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report published today.

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Female scientist looking through microscope.
2017 (approx.)

Biological science aid, Marlee Malmborg, examines and records the viability of pallid sturgeon eggs at the Columbia Environmental Research Center.

Avian Influenza: A Wild and Domestic Disease
February 2, 2017

Potential spread of highly pathogenic H5N1 strains by wild migratory ducks. H5N1 strains isolated from outbreaks in South Korea, Russia, and Japan from April to May 2008 were closely related to each other and to strains isolated from Dongting Lake in March 2008 from domestic chickens, ducks, and water. (Cappelle et al. 2014, EcoHealth).

Avian influenza viruses. Digitallycolorized negative-stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM).
August 24, 2016

Digitally-colorized negative-stained transmission electron micrograph of avian influenza viruses. Credit CDC/F.A. Murphy

2016 (approx.)

The Avian Influenza Transmission Risk Model web application depicts the intricate connections between 16 layers of administrative, environmental, and economic data in an application that runs inside a web browser. To view and manipulate the full web application, please visit http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/ai. The full web application requires a web browser with a large amount of memory available. This video gives an overview of the application and shows some of the features. 
 

2016 (approx.)

For more information on avian influenza, see http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/ai. Two currently circulating avian influenza viruses, highly pathogenic A(H5N1) and low pathogenic A(H7N9) (hereafter H5N1 and H7N9) are of particular concern due to their high case-fatality rates (approximately 60 and 30% currently), and economic impact to the livestock industry and public health system. H5N1 first emerged in domestic geese in southern China in 1996 (12), and has since infected 60 countries across Asia, Africa, and Europe killing 374 people. This video provides an overview of the outbreaks, using data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture (UNFAO) database. 
 

Image: USGS Avian Flu Research
March 15, 2016

A biological technician of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center tests chicken eggs inoculated with a field sample from wild birds to detect the presence of avian influenza virus.

Blue-winged teal in Texas with an inset that shows the avian influenza virus
March 29, 2013

Blue-winged teal in Texas. Inset shows avian influenza virus

Image: Scientists prepare to release Forster’s Tern chicks following sampling for avian influenza study.
January 1, 2010

Scientists prepare to release Forster's Tern chicks following sampling for avian influenza study.

Image: USGS Avian Flu Research
February 29, 2008

USGS scientist Dede Goldberg swabs a pintail duck for avian influenza at Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado.

Avian Influenza Sampling

Oral-pharyngeal sample being taken on an American black duck (cloacal samples are also taken from each bird)