Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Report: Skunks and Rabbits Can Catch And Shed Avian Flu

Striped Skunk- Credit Wikipedia


A story making the rounds on the AP wire this afternoon quotes Dr Jeffery Root -  a Research Wildlife Biologist at the National Wildlife Research Center -as saying that small mammals like rabbits and skunks can become infected with avian flu, and they can shed enough of the virus to pass it onto ducks (and presumably other types of birds).  

This actually builds on earlier research we've looked at - including a couple of papers by Dr. Root et al. (see Virology: Experimental Infection of Peridomestic Animals With Avian H7N9) - that finds some small mammals susceptible to many strains of influenza.

Dr. Root was also one of the authors of a 2014 PLoS One study called Shedding of a Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus in a Common Synanthropic Mammal – The Cottontail Rabbit.

First a link to, and an excerpt from, today's AP report - after which I'll return with a look at some other research in this area.

Biologist: Rabbits and Skunks Can Pass Bird Flu to Ducks

By david pitt, associated press

DES MOINES, Iowa — May 17, 2016, 1:37 PM ET

A government wildlife researcher has found that rabbits and skunks can become infected with the bird flu virus and shed it enough to infect ducks — offering scientists one more clue about how bird flu may move in the environment and spread between farms, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

Experiments done last year demonstrated that striped skunks and cottontail rabbits in a laboratory transmitted a strain of bird flu to mallard ducks after they shared food and water sources, National Wildlife Research Center biologist Jeff Root said in a statement.
(Continue . . . .)
The news here isn't that skunks and rabbits are susceptible to infection by some flu strains, as over the years we've seen reports of dozens of small mammals infected with avian, swine, and human viruses (see USGS List of Species Affected by H5N1 (Avian Influenza).  

But what this research has shown is that rabbits and striped skunks - once infected - are able to shed enough of the virus into the environment to subsequently infect mallard ducks. 

Demonstrating that infected small mammals are a plausible intermediate host, and may be part of the chain of transmission, of avian flu. Small mammals are frequently found roaming around live bird markets, on poultry farms, and drinking from the same water sources in the wild as migratory birds.

All places where they could conceivably either pick up - or spread - avian flu viruses. 

About a year ago, in Taking HPAI To The Bank (Vole) we looked at the susceptibility of the European bank vole to both H5 and H7 avian viruses, and concerns they may be getting past farm bio-security measures.

For more on mammalian hosting of avian flu, you may wish to revisit:

Catch as Cats Can
That Touch Of Mink Flu (H9N2 Edition)

H7N9 Transmission and Replication In The Guinea Pig Model

Nature: Replication of Bangladeshi H9N2 Carrying Genes From H7N3 In Animals