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The dynamics of avian influenza in western Arctic snow geese: implications for annual and migratory infection patterns

April 8, 2015

Wild water birds are the natural reservoir for low-pathogenic avian influenza viruses (AIV). However, our ability to investigate the epizootiology of AIV in these migratory populations is challenging, and despite intensive worldwide surveillance, remains poorly understood. We conducted a cross-sectional, retrospective analysis in Pacific Flyway lesser snow geese Chen caerulescens to investigate AIV serology and infection patterns. We collected nearly 3,000 sera samples from snow geese at 2 breeding colonies in Russia and Canada during 1993-1996 and swab samples from > 4,000 birds at wintering and migration areas in the United States during 2006-2011. We found seroprevalence and annual seroconversion varied considerably among years. Seroconversion and infection rates also differed between snow goose breeding colonies and wintering areas, suggesting that AIV exposure in this gregarious waterfowl species is likely occurring during several phases (migration, wintering and potentially breeding areas) of the annual cycle. We estimated AIV antibody persistence was longer (14 months) in female geese compared to males (6 months). This relatively long period of AIV antibody persistence suggests that subtype-specific serology may be an effective tool for detection of exposure to subtypes associated with highly-pathogenic AIV. Our study provides further evidence of high seroprevalence in Arctic goose populations, and estimates of annual AIV seroconversion and antibody persistence for North American waterfowl. We suggest future AIV studies include serology to help elucidate the epizootiological dynamics of AIV in wild bird populations.