For the first time, scientists have tracked the movement of a wild bird known to be infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza in North America. The new research, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, can help improve estimates of when and where the virus could spread in the environment and to other birds. There is a current outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in numerous wild and commercial bird species across North America. Highly pathogenic avian influenza is different than low pathogenic in that it can be fatal to poultry.
The researchers did not know the bird—a lesser scaup in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland—was infected with avian influenza when they released it back into the wild. The bird did not show signs of infection during observation and was not originally captured for avian influenza research. A swab test taken as an adjunct to the main research came back more than a week later indicating that the bird was infected.
The scientists found the movement patterns of the infected lesser scaup were noticeably different from noninfected birds, moving shorter distances in similar timeframes. Officials can use these findings as they develop disease mitigation strategies such as surveillance programs to track wild birds and the occurrence of avian influenza.
The USGS worked with the University of Delaware, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Georgia and Ducks Unlimited, leveraging their ongoing avian ecology research.