Surveillance methods for avian influenza virus (AIV) based upon collecting and testing samples from individual wild birds have several significant limitations primarily related to the difficulties associated with obtaining samples. Because AIVs are shed in waterfowl feces, the use of environmental substrates where waterfowl feces accumulate may overcome some of these limitations. However, these substrates are difficult to analyze using traditional diagnostic techniques, such as virus culture and PCR, because of virus inactivation, RNA degradation, low concentration of target RNA, microbial complexity, presence of inhibitory substances, and other factors. We investigated the use of a genomics-based approach called targeted resequencing to detect and characterize AIVs in wetland sediments during the 2014–15 North American highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak. We identified AIV in 20.6% (71/345) sediment samples obtained from wetlands (n=15) and outdoor waterbodies on AIV-infected poultry farms (n=10) in British Columbia, Canada (the first area affected during the outbreak). Thirteen hemagglutinin (HA) and nine neuraminidase (NA) subtypes were detected, including H5, N1, and N8 sequences that clustered with other sequences associated with the North American outbreak. Additionally, as many as eight HA and eight NA subtypes could be detected in a single sediment sample. This proof-of-concept study shows the potential utility of sediment sampling coupled with genomics-based analysis as a tool for AIV surveillance.

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