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Crossroads of highly pathogenic H5N1: overlap between wild and domestic birds in the Black Sea-Mediterranean impacts global transmission

December 24, 2020

Understanding transmission dynamics that link wild and domestic animals is a key element of predicting the emergence of infectious disease, an event that has highest likelihood of occurring wherever human livelihoods depend on agriculture and animal trade. Contact between poultry and wild birds is a key driver of the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), a process that allows for host-switching and accelerated reassortment, diversification and spread of virus between otherwise unconnected regions. This study addresses questions relevant to the spillover of HPAI at a transmission hotspot: what is the nature of the wild bird-poultry interface in Egypt and adjacent Black Sea-Mediterranean countries and how has this contributed to outbreaks occurring worldwide? Using a spatio-temporal model of infection risk informed by satellite tracking of waterfowl and viral phylogenetics, this study identified ecological conditions that contribute to spillover in this understudied region. Results indicated that multiple ducks (Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintail) hosted segments that shared ancestry with HPAI H5 from both clade 2.2.1 and clade 2.3.4 supporting the role of Anseriformes in linking viral populations in East Asia and Africa over large-distances. Quantifying the interface between wild ducks and H5N1-infected poultry revealed an increasing interface in late winter peaking in early spring when ducks expanded their range before migration, with key differences in the timing of poultry contact risk between local and long-distance migrants.