Scientists complete first global inventory of viral wild bird flu strains

A group of international scientists, under the umbrella of the USAID PREDICT project, successfully completed the first global inventory of flu strains expressed in wild birds, which provides key insight into influenza control and prevention.

The study, which was published in the PLOS ONE journal, reviewed more than 50 published studies and genetic information about wild birds to discover the key components of influenza viral diversity. The team of scientists also obtained samples from more than 5,000 birds to observe regional viral diversity.

"This snapshot of the world of flu virus diversity in birds is the outcome of many years of ecology and evolution, as viewed through the lens of surveillance methods utilized by scientists from around the world," Study Lead and Wildlife Conservation Society Associate Director of Wildlife Epidemiology Dr. Sarah Olson said.

The researchers discovered more than 116 avian influenza strains present in wild birds and also discovered that certain global regions, and certain bird species, expressed more viral diversity than others. The research team hopes to use this information to better understand wild bird-to-domesticated bird transmission, which can lead to domesticated bird-to-human transmission of avian influenza infection.

"This inventory isn't about blaming wild birds, but it allows us to map what we know, and informs our understanding of what drives viral diversity and the emergence of rare viral strains that can infect people," Olson said. "Given that flu viruses can jump from domestic poultry to people, ongoing efforts at improving biosecurity at poultry farms and markets remain key to outbreak prevention."