The live poultry trade is thought to play an important role in the spread and maintenance of highly pathogenic avian influenza A viruses (HP AIVs) in Asia. Despite an abundance of small-scale observational studies, the role of the poultry trade in disseminating AIV over large geographic areas is still unclear, especially for developing countries with complex poultry production systems. Here we combine virus genomes and reconstructed poultry transportation data to measure and compare the spatial spread in China of three key subtypes of AIV: H5N1, H7N9, and H5N6. Although it is difficult to disentangle the contribution of confounding factors, such as bird migration and spatial distance, we find evidence that the dissemination of these subtypes among domestic poultry is geographically continuous and likely associated with the intensity of the live poultry trade in China. Using two independent data sources and network analysis methods, we report a regional-scale community structure in China that might explain the spread of AIV subtypes in the country. The identification of this structure has the potential to inform more targeted strategies for the prevention and control of AIV in China.
Keywords: avian influenza; community-structured transmission; phylogeography; poultry trade.
Copyright © 2020 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.