The role of waders as hosts for low pathogenic avian influenza

The VWSG has supported a significant and long-term study that demonstrates the role of waders as hosts for low pathogenic avian influenza.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (or bird flu) is gaining substantial media attention as a result of the profound impact that this virus is having on wild and domestic birds. The bird flu that is being reported is just one strain of many, the vast majority of which cause no disease and are commonly found in wild birds. These strains are termed low pathogenic.

Through a decade of sample collection, Prof Marcel Klaassen and Dr. Michelle Wille have demonstrated the role of waders in the ecology of these low pathogenic avian influenza viruses. Marcel and Michelle are a common sight at catches in Victoria, and often join expeditions including King Island, South Australia and Broome to collect blood samples and swabs for their research. They show that the long distance migratory waders rather than endemic waders are the most frequently infected with low pathogenic avian influenza viruses. The highest prevalence is found in Ruddy Turnstones and Red-necked Stints; Sanderlings by contrast are almost never infected with the virus. This is supported with antibody data from blood samples. Based on patterns of virus prevalence, they also found that the genetic relationships between bird species (here, inferred through phylogenetics) explains why some species have high prevalence and others have low prevalence.

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences