Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Risk-based surveillance of avian influenza in Australia’s wild birds

John P. Tracey

Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Vertebrate Pest Research Unit, Industry & Investment NSW, Forest Road, Orange, New South Wales 2800, Australia. Email: john.tracey@industry.nsw.gov.au

Wildlife Research 37(2) 134-144 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR09152
Submitted: 4 November 2009  Accepted: 8 February 2010   Published: 16 April 2010


Context. The epidemiology of avian influenza and the ecology of wild birds are inextricably linked. An understanding of both is essential in assessing and managing the risks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

Aims. This project investigates the abundance, movements and breeding ecology of Australia’s Anseriformes in relation to the prevalence of low-pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) and provides risk profiles to improve the efficiency and relevance of wild-bird surveillance.

Methods. Generalised linear models and analysis of variance were used to examine the determinants of Anseriformes abundance and movements in Australia, and the observed prevalence of LPAI in Australia (n = 33 139) and overseas (n = 93 344). Risk profiles were developed using poultry density, estimated LPAI prevalence, the abundance of Anseriformes, and the probability of Anseriformes moving from areas of HPAI epizootics.

Key results. Analysis of Australian wild-bird surveillance data strongly supports other studies that have found the prevalence of LPAI in wild birds to be much lower (1%) in Australia than that in other countries (4.7%). LPAI prevalence was highly variable among sampling periods and locations and significantly higher in dabbling ducks than in other functional groups. Trends in Anseriformes movements, abundance and breeding are also variable, and correlated with rainfall, which could explain low prevalence and the failure to detect seasonal differences in LPAI in wild birds. Virus prevalence of faecal samples was significantly lower, whereas collecting faecal samples was 3–5 times less expensive and logistically simpler, than that of cloacal samples. Overall priority areas for on-going surveillance are provided for Australia.

Conclusions. Previous surveillance has occurred in high-priority areas, with the exception of Mareeba (North Queensland), Brisbane and Darwin, and has provided valuable information on the role of wild birds in maintaining avian influenza viruses. However, several practical considerations need to be addressed for future surveillance.

Implications. Long-term surveillance studies in wild birds in priority areas are required, which incorporate information on bird abundance, age, behaviour, breeding and movements, particularly for dabbling ducks. This is important to validate trends of LPAI prevalence, in understanding the main determinants for virus spread and persistence, and in predicting and managing future epizootics of HPAI in Australia.


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