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The pathogenesis of a North American H5N2 clade group A highly pathogenic avian influenza virus in surf scoters (Melanitta perspicillata)

September 23, 2020


Aquatic waterfowl, particularly those in the order Anseriformes and Charadriiformes, are the ecological reservoir of avian influenza viruses (AIVs). Dabbling ducks play a recognized role in the maintenance and transmission of AIVs. Furthermore, the pathogenesis of highly pathogenic AIV (HPAIV) in dabbling ducks is well characterized. In contrast, the role of diving ducks in HPAIV maintenance and transmission remains unclear. In this study, the pathogenesis of a North American A/Goose/1/Guangdong/96-lineage clade group A H5N2 HPAIV, A/Northern pintail/Washington/40964/2014, in diving sea ducks (surf scoters, Melanitta perspicillata) was characterized.


Intrachoanal inoculation of surf scoters with A/Northern pintail/Washington/40964/2014 (H5N2) HPAIV induced mild transient clinical disease whilst concomitantly shedding high virus titers for up to 10 days post-inoculation (dpi), particularly from the oropharyngeal route. Virus shedding, albeit at low levels, continued to be detected up to 14 dpi. Two aged ducks that succumbed to HPAIV infection had pathological evidence for co-infection with duck enteritis virus, which was confirmed by molecular approaches. Abundant HPAIV antigen was observed in visceral and central nervous system organs and was associated with histopathological lesions.


Collectively, surf scoters, are susceptible to HPAIV infection and excrete high titers of HPAIV from the respiratory and cloacal tracts whilst being asymptomatic. The susceptibility of diving sea ducks to H5 HPAIV highlights the need for additional research and surveillance to further understand the contribution of diving ducks to HPAIV ecology.