, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 339-348
Date: 05 Jun 2007

Diversity, origins and virulence of Avipoxviruses in Hawaiian Forest Birds

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Abstract

We cultured avian pox (Avipoxvirus spp.) from lesions collected on Hawai‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i, and ‘Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands from 15 native or non-native birds representing three avian orders. Phylogenetic analysis of a 538 bp fragment of the gene encoding the virus 4b core polypeptide revealed two distinct variant clusters, with sequences from chickens (fowlpox) forming a third distinct basal cluster. Pox isolates from one of these two clusters appear closely related to canarypox and other passerine pox viruses, while the second appears more specific to Hawai‘i. There was no evidence that birds were infected simultaneously with multiple pox virus variants based on evaluation of multiples clones from four individuals. No obvious temporal or geographic associations were observed and strict host specificity was not apparent among the 4b-defined field isolates. We amplified a 116 bp 4b core protein gene fragment from an ‘Elepaio (Chasiempis sandwichensis) collected in 1900 on Hawai‘i Island that clustered closely with the second of the two variants, suggesting that this variant has been in Hawai‘i for at least 100 years. The high variation detected between the three 4b clusters provides evidence for multiple, likely independent introductions, and does not support the hypothesis of infection of native species through introduction of infected fowl. Preliminary experimental infections in native Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi (Hemignathus virens) suggest that the 4b-defined variants may be biologically distinct, with one variant appearing more virulent. These pox viruses may interact with avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum), another introduced pathogen in Hawaiian forest bird populations, through modulation of host immune responses.