"Oct 25, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Researchers from the University of Georgia report that wood ducks and laughing gulls are highly susceptible to H5N1 avian influenza, which suggests those two species could be sensitive indicators of the virus's presence in wild birds.
In a lab, the researchers exposed six species of wild birds—five duck species and laughing gulls—to the lethal Asian H5N1 virus. All the birds became infected, but only the wood ducks and laughing gulls became ill or died, according to their report in the November issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The findings come amid this year's greatly expanded federal and state program to look for H5N1 avian flu in wild birds in the United States. The deadly Asian strain of H5N1 has not yet been found in North America, but a mild "North American" strain of H5N1 has been found in wild birds in several states.
"If you're looking for highly pathogenic H5N1 in wild birds, it would really pay to investigate any wood duck deaths because they seem to be highly susceptible," David Stallknecht, a study coauthor, commented in a University of Georgia news release.
Besides wood ducks, the ducks used in the study were mallards, Northern pintails, blue-winged teal, and redheads. Those species are the most likely to bring H5N1 to North America, given their behavior and habitat use, lead author Dr. Justin Brown commented in the news release.
The researchers found that the birds studied had more virus in their mouth and throat secretions than in feces. In contrast, said Stallknecht, birds infected with low-pathogenic avian flu viruses shed more virus in their feces, according to the news release."
So when the highly-pathogenic H5N1 finally floats its way on over to the US, try not to get bitten by any ducks.