The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (Y-K Delta) in western Alaska is an immense and important breeding ground for waterfowl. Migratory birds from the Pacific Americas, Central Pacific, and East Asian-Australasian flyways converge in this region, providing opportunities for intermixing of North American- and Eurasian-origin hosts and infectious agents, such as avian influenza virus (AIV). We characterized the genomes of 90 low pathogenic (LP) AIV isolates from 11 species of waterfowl sampled on the Y-K Delta between 2006 and 2009 as part of an interagency surveillance program for the detection of the H5N1 highly pathogenic (HP) strain of AIV. We found evidence for subtype and genetic differences between viruses from swans and geese, dabbling ducks, and sea ducks. At least one gene segment in 39% of all isolates was Eurasian in origin. Target species (those ranked as having a relatively high potential to introduce HP H5N1 AIV to North America) were no more likely than nontarget species to carry viruses with genes of Eurasian origin. These findings provide evidence that the frequency at which viral gene segments of Eurasian origin are detected does not result from a strong species effect, but rather we suspect it is linked to the geographic location of the Y-K Delta in western Alaska where flyways from different continents overlap. This study provides support for retaining the Y-K Delta as a high priority region for the surveillance of Asian avian pathogens such as HP H5N1 AIV.
Additional publication details
Genomic analysis of avian influenza viruses from waterfowl in Western Alaska, USA