Wild bird migration across the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau: A transmission route for highly pathogenic H5N1

PLoS ONE
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Abstract

Background

Qinghai Lake in central China has been at the center of debate on whether wild birds play a role in circulation of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1. In 2005, an unprecedented epizootic at Qinghai Lake killed more than 6000 migratory birds including over 3000 bar-headed geese (Anser indicus). H5N1 subsequently spread to Europe and Africa, and in following years has re-emerged in wild birds along the Central Asia flyway several times.

Methodology/Principal Findings

To better understand the potential involvement of wild birds in the spread of H5N1, we studied the movements of bar-headed geese marked with GPS satellite transmitters at Qinghai Lake in relation to virus outbreaks and disease risk factors. We discovered a previously undocumented migratory pathway between Qinghai Lake and the Lhasa Valley of Tibet where 93% of the 29 marked geese overwintered. From 2003–2009, sixteen outbreaks in poultry or wild birds were confirmed on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and the majority were located within the migratory pathway of the geese. Spatial and temporal concordance between goose movements and three potential H5N1 virus sources (poultry farms, a captive bar-headed goose facility, and H5N1 outbreak locations) indicated ample opportunities existed for virus spillover and infection of migratory geese on the wintering grounds. Their potential as a vector of H5N1 was supported by rapid migration movements of some geese and genetic relatedness of H5N1 virus isolated from geese in Tibet and Qinghai Lake.

Conclusions/Significance

This is the first study to compare phylogenetics of the virus with spatial ecology of its host, and the combined results suggest that wild birds play a role in the spread of H5N1 in this region. However, the strength of the evidence would be improved with additional sequences from both poultry and wild birds on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau where H5N1 has a clear stronghold.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Wild bird migration across the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau: A transmission route for highly pathogenic H5N1
Series title PLoS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0017622
Volume 6
Issue 3
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Public Library of Science
Publisher location San Francisco, CA
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Western Ecological Research Center
Description e17622; 14 p.
Country China
Other Geospatial Qinghai Lake
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