Comparative micro-epidemiology of pathogenic avian influenza virus outbreaks in a wild bird population

Hill, S C and Hansen, R and Watson, S and Coward, V and Russell, C and Cooper, J and Essen, S and Everest, H and Parag, K V and Fiddaman, S and Reid, S and Lewis, N S and Brookes, S M and Smith, A L and Sheldon, B and Perrins, C M and Brown, I H and Pybus, O G (2019) Comparative micro-epidemiology of pathogenic avian influenza virus outbreaks in a wild bird population. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 374 (1775).

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Understanding the epidemiological dynamics of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) in wild birds is crucial for guiding effective surveillance and control measures. The spread of H5 HPAIV has been well characterized over large geographical and temporal scales. However, information about the detailed dynamics and demographics of individual outbreaks in wild birds is rare and important epidemiological parameters remain unknown. We present data from a wild population of long-lived birds (mute swans; Cygnus olor) that has experienced three outbreaks of related H5 HPAIVs in the past decade, specifically, H5N1 (2007), H5N8 (2016) and H5N6 (2017). Detailed demographic data were available and intense sampling was conducted before and after the outbreaks; hence the population is unusually suitable for exploring the natural epidemiology, evolution and ecology of HPAIV in wild birds. We show that key epidemiological features remain remarkably consistent across multiple outbreaks, including the timing of virus incursion and outbreak duration, and the presence of a strong age-structure in morbidity that likely arises from an equivalent age-structure in immunological responses. The predictability of these features across a series of outbreaks in a complex natural population is striking and contributes to our understanding of HPAIV in wild birds.

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