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Avian influenza antibody prevalence increases with mercury contamination in wild waterfowl

September 8, 2022

Environmental contamination is widespread and can negatively impact wildlife health. Some contaminants, including heavy metals, have immunosuppressive effects, but prior studies have rarely measured contamination and disease simultaneously, which limits our understanding of how contaminants and pathogens interact to influence wildlife health. Here, we measured mercury concentrations, influenza infection, influenza antibodies, and body condition in 749 individuals from 11 species of wild ducks overwintering in California. We found that the odds of prior influenza infection increased more than five-fold across the observed range of blood mercury concentrations, while accounting for species, age, sex, and date. The prevalence of influenza infection was also higher in species with higher average mercury concentrations. We detected no relationship between influenza infection and body fat content. This positive relationship between influenza prevalence and mercury concentrations in migratory waterfowl suggests that immunotoxic effects of mercury contamination could promote the spread of avian influenza along migratory flyways, especially if influenza has minimal effects on bird health and mobility. More generally, these results show that the effects of environmental contamination could extend beyond the geographic area of contamination itself by altering the prevalence of infectious diseases in highly mobile hosts.

Publication Year 2022
Title Avian influenza antibody prevalence increases with mercury contamination in wild waterfowl
DOI 10.1098/rspb.2022.1312
Authors Claire Stewart Teitelbaum, Josh T. Ackerman, Mason A. Hill, Jaqueline M. Satter, Michael L. Casazza, Susan E. W. De La Cruz, Walter M. Boyce, Evan James Buck, John M. Eadie, Mark P. Herzog, Elliott Matchett, Cory T. Overton, Sarah H. Peterson, Magdalena Plancarte, Andrew M. Ramey, Jeffery D. Sullivan, Diann Prosser
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Index ID 70236475
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center; Western Ecological Research Center; Eastern Ecological Science Center