Study highlights potential of avian influenza to infect commercial flocks
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have revealed insights into avian influenza viruses and their potential to infect commercial flocks.
Scientists found that avian influenza viruses can readily exchange genetic material with other low pathogenic viruses during migration, increasing the chance of a serious outbreak occurring on domestic poultry and wild birds.
Dr Sam Lycett from the Roslin Institute explains: “Bird flu viruses can readily exchange genetic material with other influenza viruses and this, in combination with repeated transmission of viruses between domestic and wild birds, means that a viral strain can emerge and persist in wild bird populations, which carries a high risk of disease for poultry.
“This aids our understanding of how a pathogenic avian flu virus could become established in wild bird populations."
In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analysed the genetic makeup of the 2016/17 avian influenza virus in various birds at key stages during the flu season.
They found that the virus could easily exchange genetic material with other, less harmful viruses, at times and locations corresponding to bird migratory cycle. These included viruses carried by wild birds on intersecting migratory routes, and by farmed ducks in China and central Europe.
The research also revealed that migrating birds harbouring weaker viruses are more likely to survive their journey and potentially pass the disease to domestic birds.