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The potential role of wild birds as carriers of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) subtype H5N1 is still a matter of debate. Consecutive or simultaneous infections with different subtypes of influenza viruses of low pathogenicity (LPAIV) are very common in wild duck populations. To better understand the epidemiology and pathogenesis of HPAIV H5N1 infections in natural ecosystems, we investigated the influence of prior infection of mallards with homo- (H5N2) and heterosubtypic (H4N6) LPAIV on exposure to HPAIV H5N1. In mallards with homosubtypic immunity induced by LPAIV infection, clinical disease was absent and shedding of HPAIV from respiratory and intestinal tracts was grossly reduced compared to the heterosubtypic and control groups (mean GEC/100 microl at 3 dpi: 3.0 x 10(2) vs. 2.3 x 10(4) vs. 8.7 x 10(4); p<0.05). Heterosubtypic immunity induced by an H4N6 infection mediated a similar but less pronounced effect. We conclude that the epidemiology of HPAIV H5N1 in mallards and probably other aquatic wild bird species is massively influenced by interfering immunity induced by prior homo- and heterosubtypic LPAIV infections.
Animals Ducks/virology* Hemagglutination Tests Immunohistochemistry Influenza in Birds/immunology* Influenza in Birds/virology Orthomyxoviridae/pathogenicity* Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction