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Maintenance of influenza A viruses and antibody response in mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) sampled during the non-breeding season in Alaska

August 24, 2017

Prevalence of influenza A virus (IAV) infections in northern-breeding waterfowl has previously been reported to reach an annual peak during late summer or autumn; however, little is known about IAV infection dynamics in waterfowl populations persisting at high-latitude regions such as Alaska, during winter. We captured mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) throughout the non-breeding season (August–April) of 2012–2015 in Fairbanks and Anchorage, the two largest cities in Alaska, to assess patterns of IAV infection and antibody production using molecular methods and a standard serologic assay. In addition, we used virus isolation, genetic sequencing, and a virus microneutralization assay to characterize viral subtypes and to evaluate the immune response of mallards captured on multiple occasions through time. We captured 923 mallards during three successive sampling years: Fairbanks in 2012/13 and 2013/14, and Anchorage in 2014/15. Prevalence varied by age, season, and year/site with high and relatively stable estimates throughout the non-breeding season. Infected birds were detected in all locations/seasons except early-winter in Fairbanks during 2013/14. IAVs with 17 combinations of hemagglutinin (H1–5, H7–9, H11, H12) and neuraminidase (N1–6, N8, N9) subtypes were isolated. Antibodies to IAVs were detected throughout autumn and winter for all sampling locations and years, however, seroprevalence was higher among adults and varied among years. Mallards exhibited individual heterogeneity with regard to immune response, providing instances of both seroconversion and seroreversion to detected viral subtypes. The probability that an individual transitioned from one serostatus to another varied by age, with juvenile mallards having higher rates of seroconversion and seroreversion than adults. Our study provides evidence that a diversity of IAVs circulate in populations of mallards wintering at urban locations in Alaska, and we suggest waterfowl wintering at high-latitudes may play an important role in maintenance of viruses across breeding seasons.

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