Abstract

The American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) is a nomadic wading bird common to wetland habitats in the southeastern US. In south Florida, US, habitat depletion has driven many ibis to become highly urbanized. Although they forage in neighborhood parks, artificial wetlands, backyards, and golf courses, the majority continue to nest in natural wetlands, often in dense, mixed species colonies. Adults and juveniles commonly disperse thousands of kilometers to other breeding colonies along the Gulf and southeast Atlantic coasts, presenting the potential for close contact with humans, domestic animals, and other wild bird species. Historically, wading birds were not considered to be significant hosts for influenza A virus (IAV), yet as ibis regularly move among various human, domestic animal, and wildlife interfaces, their potential to be exposed to or infected with IAV deserves attention. We experimentally challenged wild-caught, captive-reared White Ibis (n=20) with IAV, tested wild White Ibis for IAV, and serologically tested wild White Ibis for antibodies to IAV. White Ibis were highly susceptible to experimental challenge with H6N1 and H11N9 IAVs, with cloacal shedding lasting an average of 6 d. All 13 infected birds seroconverted by 14 d postinfection as determined by microneutralization. In contrast, no birds challenged with H3N8 were infected. We tested 118 swabs and 578 serum samples from White Ibis captured in southeastern Florida for IAV infection and antibodies to IAV, respectively. Although no IAVs were isolated, 70.4% serum samples were antibody positive by blocking enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (bELISA). Neutralizing antibodies to H1–H12 were detected in 96.0% of a subset of bELISA positive birds (n=196) and 81.0% tested antibody positive to two or more hemagglutinin subtypes, indicating that exposure to multiple IAVs is common. These results provide evidence that White Ibis are susceptible and naturally infected with IAV and may represent a component of the IAV natural reservoir system.

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