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Evidence for wild waterfowl origin of H7N3 influenza A virus detected in captive-reared New Jersey pheasants

September 1, 2016

In August 2014, a low-pathogenic H7N3 influenza A virus was isolated from pheasants at a New Jersey gamebird farm and hunting preserve. In this study, we use phylogenetic analyses and calculations of genetic similarity to gain inference into the genetic ancestry of this virus and to identify potential routes of transmission. Results of maximum-likelihood (ML) and maximum-clade-credibility (MCC) phylogenetic analyses provide evidence that A/pheasant/New Jersey/26996-2/2014 (H7N3) had closely related H7 hemagglutinin (HA) and N3 neuraminidase (NA) gene segments as compared to influenza A viruses circulating among wild waterfowl in the central and eastern USA. The estimated time of the most recent common ancestry (TMRCA) between the pheasant virus and those most closely related from wild waterfowl was early 2013 for both the H7 HA and N3 NA gene segments. None of the viruses from waterfowl identified as being most closely related to A/pheasant/New Jersey/26996-2/2014 at the HA and NA gene segments in ML and MCC phylogenetic analyses shared ≥99 % nucleotide sequence identity for internal gene segment sequences. This result indicates that specific viral strains identified in this study as being closely related to the HA and NA gene segments of A/pheasant/New Jersey/26996-2/2014 were not the direct predecessors of the etiological agent identified during the New Jersey outbreak. However, the recent common ancestry of the H7 and N3 gene segments of waterfowl-origin viruses and the virus isolated from pheasants suggests that viral diversity maintained in wild waterfowl likely played an important role in the emergence of A/pheasant/New Jersey/26996-2/2014.