Alternate routes of influenza A virus infection in Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Vet Res. 2018 Oct 29;49(1):110. doi: 10.1186/s13567-018-0604-0.


The natural reservoir for all influenza A viruses (IAVs) is wild birds, particularly dabbling ducks. During the autumn, viral prevalence can be very high in dabbling ducks (> 30%) in the Northern Hemisphere, and individuals may be repeatedly infected. Transmission and infection is through the fecal-oral route, whereby birds shed viruses in feces and conspecifics are infected though feeding in virus-contaminated water. In this study we wanted to assess two alternative infection routes: cloacal drinking and preening. Using experimental infections, we assessed patterns of infection using a combination of virus shedding, as assessed by real-time PCR from cloacal swabs, and patterns of viral replication using virus-immunohistochemistry of gastrointestinal tissues. The cloacal drinking experiment consisted of two trials using cloacal inoculation at two different time points to account for age differences, as well as a trial whereby ducks were allowed to take up virus-laden water through the cloaca. All ducks became infected, and rather than the bursa of Fabricius being the main site of replication, the colon had the highest intensity of replication, as inferred through immunohistochemistry. In experiments assessing preening, feathers were contaminated with virus-laden water and all ducks became infected, regardless of whether they were kept individually or together. Further, naive contacts were infected by the individuals whose feathers were virus-contaminated. Overall, we reinforce that IAV transmission in dabbling ducks is multifactorial-if exposed to virus-contaminated water ducks may be infected through dabbling, preening of infected feathers, and cloacal drinking.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Cloaca / virology
  • Ducks*
  • Influenza A virus*
  • Influenza in Birds / virology*
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / veterinary
  • Virus Replication
  • Virus Shedding