FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

Birds infected with avian influenza experience change in fecal odors

The Monell Chemical Senses Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently conducted a study that found some birds exhibit a change in fecal odor when infected with the avian influenza virus.

The study findings were published in the PLOS ONE journal and explained that fecal odors in mallards were altered when the birds were exposed to the avian influenza virus. Researchers found that by using odor detection, birds infected with the avian influenza could be identified by mice.

"The fact that a distinctive fecal odor is emitted from infected ducks suggests that avian influenza infection in mallards may be 'advertised' to other members of the population," Bruce Kimball, a research chemist with the USDA National Wildlife Research Center at the Monell Center, said. "Whether this chemical communication benefits non-infected birds by warning them to stay away from sick ducks or if it benefits the pathogen by increasing the attractiveness of the infected individual to other birds, is unknown."

Mice were trained to distinguish between avian flu-infected and uninfected birds by chemical analysis, which was defined as acetoin and 1-octen-3-ol odor changes. Researchers hope to find a way to use odor detection as an alternative method of detecting avian flu-infected birds.

"Avian influenzas are typically asymptomatic in ducks and waterfowl," Gary Beauchamp, a behavioral biologist at the Monell Center and an author of the study, said. "Infection in these species can only be diagnosed by directly detecting the virus, requiring capture of birds and collection of swab samples. Our results suggest that rapid and simple detection of influenzas in waterfowl populations may be possible through exploiting this odor change phenomenon."

Future studies will observe potential changes in social behavior with regard to changes in bodily odors as a result of infection.