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Highly pathogenic avian influenza is an emerging disease threat to wild birds in North America

January 11, 2022

Prior to the emergence of the A/goose/Guangdong/1/1996 (Gs/GD) H5N1 influenza A virus, the long-held and well-supported paradigm was that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks were restricted to poultry, the result of cross-species transmission of precursor viruses from wild aquatic birds that subsequently gained pathogenicity in domestic birds. Therefore, management agencies typically adopted a prevention, control, and eradication strategy that included strict biosecurity for domestic bird production, isolation of infected and exposed flocks, and prompt depopulation. In most cases, this strategy has proved sufficient for eradicating HPAI. Since 2002, this paradigm has been challenged with many detections of viral descendants of the Gs/GD lineage among wild birds, most of which have been associated with sporadic mortality events. Since the emergence and evolution of the genetically distinct clade 2.3.4.4 Gs/GD lineage HPAI viruses in approximately 2010, there have been further increases in the occurrence of HPAI in wild birds and geographic spread through migratory bird movement. A prominent example is the introduction of clade 2.3.4.4 Gs/GD HPAI viruses from East Asia to North America via migratory birds in autumn 2014 that ultimately led to the largest outbreak of HPAI in the history of the United States. Given the apparent maintenance of Gs/GD lineage HPAI viruses in a global avian reservoir; bidirectional virus exchange between wild and domestic birds facilitating the continued adaptation of Gs/GD HPAI viruses in wild bird hosts; the current frequency of HPAI outbreaks in wild birds globally, and particularly in Eurasia where Gs/GD HPAI viruses may now be enzootic; and ongoing dispersal of AI viruses from East Asia to North America via migratory birds, HPAI now represents an emerging disease threat to North American wildlife. This recent paradigm shift implies that management of HPAI in domestic birds alone may no longer be sufficient to eradicate HPAI viruses from a given country or region. Rather, agencies managing wild birds and their habitats may consider the development or adoption of mitigation strategies to minimize introductions to poultry, to reduce negative impacts on wild bird populations, and to diminish adverse effects to stakeholders using wildlife resources. The main objective of this review is, therefore, to provide information that will assist wildlife managers in developing mitigation strategies or approaches for dealing with outbreaks of Gs/GD HPAI in wild birds in the form of preparedness, surveillance, research, communications, and targeted management actions. Resultant outbreak response plans and actions may represent meaningful steps of wildlife managers toward the use of collaborative and multi-jurisdictional One Health approaches when it comes to the detection, investigation, and mitigation of emerging viruses at the human-domestic animal-wildlife interface.