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Influenza A(H7N9) Virus Transmission between Finches and Poultry - Volume 21, Number 4—April 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC


Influenza A(H7N9) Virus Transmission between Finches and Poultry - Volume 21, Number 4—April 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

Volume 21, Number 4—April 2015


Influenza A(H7N9) Virus Transmission between Finches and Poultry

Jeremy C. Jones, Stephanie Sonnberg, Richard J. Webby, and Robert G. WebsterComments to Author 
Author affiliations: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, USA


Low pathogenicity avian influenza A(H7N9) virus has been detected in poultry since 2013, and the virus has caused >450 infections in humans. The mode of subtype H7N9 virus transmission between avian species remains largely unknown, but various wild birds have been implicated as a source of transmission. H7N9 virus was recently detected in a wild sparrow in Shanghai, China, and passerine birds, such as finches, which share space and resources with wild migratory birds, poultry, and humans, can be productively infected with the virus. We demonstrate that interspecies transmission of H7N9 virus occurs readily between society finches and bobwhite quail but only sporadically between finches and chickens. Inoculated finches are better able to infect naive poultry than the reverse. Transmission occurs through shared water but not through the airborne route. It is therefore conceivable that passerine birds may serve as vectors for dissemination of H7N9 virus to domestic poultry.
In spring 2013, novel avian influenza A(H7N9) viruses emerged in eastern China (1). These viruses are reassortants of subtype H7 and H9N2 viruses from wild birds and poultry (2,3) and were detected in humans and subsequently in chickens, ducks, pigeons, water, and soil at bird markets (4,5). H7N9 virus does not induce clinical signs in poultry (6), and genetic analyses show a monobasic cleavage site in the hemagglutinin (HA) protein (1); H7N9 virus is therefore classified as a low pathogenicity avian influenza virus (LPAIV). However, the virus can infect humans and cause severe disease (7). Human infection with H7N9 virus was first reported in China in March 2013 (8). By October 2, 2014, a total of 453 confirmed cases and 175 associated deaths had been reported (http://www.who.int/influenza/human_animal_interface/influenza_h7n9/riskassessment_h7n9_2Oct14.pdf?ua=1). Despite their avian genetic background, some H7N9 viruses have HA and polymerase protein mutations that confer a replication advantage in mammals (1). Human infection has been associated with exposure to poultry or live poultry markets (7,9); market closings likely contributed to infection declines in mid-2013 (10). Nevertheless, H7N9 virus persists in poultry, and human infections surged in the late 2013, demonstrating that this virus is an ongoing public health threat (11).
The polymerase acidic (PA) and polymerase basic 2 genes derived from A/Anhui/1/2013 (H7N9)–like virus are homologous to those from A/brambling/Beijing/16/2012 (H9N2) (1,8), a strain isolated from a brambling (Fringilla montifringilla, a small passerine bird). In addition, during surveillance in 2013, the influenza strain A/tree sparrow/Shanghai/01/2013 (H7N9) was identified in a tree sparrow (Passer montanus, a passerine bird) found at a site where migratory and local birds congregate (12).
We previously showed that society finches (Lonchura striata domestica), zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), sparrows (P. domesticus), and parakeets (Melopsittacus undulates) are susceptible to H7N9 virus and shed virus into water (13). The birds used in those experiments are examples of passerine and psittacine birds, which include individual species that are migratory, peridomestic, and domesticated. The interaction of wild birds, humans, and domesticated animals may contribute to the maintenance and spread of H7N9 virus. To further address the contribution of passerines to the ecology of H7N9 virus, we modeled potential interspecies virus transmission by using society finches (a passerine bird) and poultry (bobwhite quail and chickens) and determined the route of virus transmission.

Dr. Jones is a postdoctoral fellow at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. His research interests include the host response to influenza viruses, emergence of novel influenza virus variants, and zoonotic transmission of influenza between species.


We thank Lisa Kercher, Beth Little, David Carey, Kimberly Friedman, and James Knowles for experimental support and administrative assistance and Huachen Zhu and Yi Guan for providing virus isolates.
This work was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (contract no. HHSN272201400006C), and by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities.


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Suggested citation for this article: Jones JC, Sonnberg S, Webby RJ, Webster RG. Influenza A(H7N9) virus transmission between finches and poultry. Emerg Infect Dis. 2015 Apr [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2104.141703
DOI: 10.3201/eid2104.141703

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