, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 4-13
Date: 23 Apr 2011

The Ecology of Influenza A Viruses in Wild Birds in Southern Africa


Avian influenza viruses (AIVs) are pathogens of global concern, but there has been little previous research on avian influenza in southern Africa and almost nothing is known about the dynamics of AIVs in the region. We counted, captured and sampled birds regularly at five sites, two in South Africa (Barberspan and Strandfontein) and one in each of Botswana (Lake Ngami), Mozambique (Lake Chuali) and Zimbabwe (Lakes Manyame and Chivero) between March 2007 and May 2009. The South African and Zimbabwean sites were visited every 2 months and the sites in Botswana and Mozambique every 4 months. During each visit we undertook 5–7 days of standardised bird counts followed by 5–10 days of capturing and sampling water-associated birds. We sampled 4,977 birds of 165 different species and completed 2,503 half-hour point counts. We found 125 positive rRT-PCR cases of avian influenza across all sites. Two viruses (H1N8 and H3N8) were isolated and additional H5, H6 and H7 strains were identified. We did not positively identify any highly pathogenic H5N1. Overall viral prevalence (2.51%) was similar to the lower range of European values, considerable spatial and temporal variation occurred in viral prevalence, and there was no detectable influence of the annual influx of Palearctic migrants. Although waterbirds appear to be the primary viral carriers, passerines may link wild birds and poultry. While influenza cycles are probably driven by the bird movements that result from rainfall patterns, the epidemiology of avian influenza in wild birds in the subregion is complex and there appears to be the possibility for viral transmission throughout the year.