Historic prevalence and distribution of avian influenza virus A(H7N9) among wild birds

We examined 48 published studies for which sample sizes could be ascertained to determine the historic prevalence of influenza A(H7N9) virus in wild bird populations and reviewed GenBank data to further establish its distribution. Low prevalence (0.0093%) in Asia suggests > 30,000 samples would be required to detect the H7N9 subtype in wild birds. Beginning in February 2013, and ongoing at publication of this article, infections with the zoonotic virus, influenza A(H7N9), have caused serious illness in humans in provinces of southeastern China. On April 4, the China Animal Disease Control Centre announced that the virus had been detected in samples collected from a pigeon and chickens at a market in Shanghai. On April 17, the virus was detected in a sample from a wild pigeon in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Chen et al. concluded that humans were infected by domestic birds; no human-to-human transmission was detected or suspected. The structure of the hemagglutinin (HA) protein in the virus and the lack of reports of severe disease in poultry indicate that the virus exhibits characteristics of low pathogenicity in birds. Recent phylogenetic analysis indicates that the HA segment of the H7N9 subtype is closely related to a strain that was isolated from domestic ducks in Zhejiang, China, in 2011. The neuraminidase (NA) gene of the H7N9 subtype is closely related to that of a strain that was isolated from wild bird samples in South Korea in a location adjacent to a domestic bird production facility; additionally, 6 internal genes are closely related to those of an A(H9N2) virus isolated from a brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) sample during 2012 in Beijing, China.

Little information exists on the status of A(H7N9) virus in wild birds to assess their potential as sources of human infection and disseminators of the virus to new areas. Here we report the historic distribution and prevalence of H7N9 subtypes among wild birds preceding this outbreak. This subtype was not known to cause disease in humans until the outbreak during February in China. We also examine the prevalence of individual H7, N9, and H9N2 subtypes in Asia. Finally, we estimate the sample size necessary to detect this low pathogenicity strain of avian influenza virus in wild birds.

Emerging Infectious Diseases
November 12, 2013

Original web page at Emerging Infectious Diseases