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Influenza A virus recovery, diversity, and intercontinental exchange: A multi-year assessment of wild bird sampling at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

April 5, 2018

Western Alaska is a potential point-of-entry for foreign-origin influenza A viruses (IAVs) into North America via migratory birds. We sampled waterfowl and gulls for IAVs at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in western Alaska, USA, during late summer and autumn months of 2011–2015, to evaluate the abundance and diversity of viruses at this site. We collected 4842 samples across five years from 25 species of wild birds resulting in the recovery, isolation, and sequencing of 172 IAVs. With the intent of optimizing sampling efficiencies, we used information derived from this multi-year effort to: 1) evaluate from which species we consistently recover viruses, 2) describe viral subtypes of isolates by host species and year, 3) characterize viral gene segment sequence diversity with respect to host species, and assess potential differences in the viral lineages among the host groups, and 4) examine how evidence of intercontinental exchange of IAVs relates to host species. We consistently recovered viruses from dabbling ducks (Anas spp.), emperor geese (Chen canagica) and glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens). There was little evidence for differences in viral subtypes and diversity from different waterfowl hosts, however subtypes and viral diversity varied between waterfowl host groups and glaucous-winged gulls. Furthermore, higher proportions of viral sequences from northern pintails (Anas acuta), emperor geese and glaucous-winged gulls were grouped in phylogenetic clades that included IAV sequences originating from wild birds sampled in Asia as compared to non-pintail dabbling ducks, a difference that may be related to intercontinental migratory tendencies of host species. Our summary of research and surveillance efforts at Izembek NWR will assist in future prioritization of which hosts to sample and swab types to collect in Alaska and elsewhere in order to maximize isolate recovery, subtype and sequence diversity for resultant viruses, and detection of evidence for intercontinental viral exchange.