In aquatic bird populations, the ability of avian influenza (AI) viruses to remain infectious in water for extended periods provides a mechanism that allows viral transmission to occur long after shedding birds have left the area. However, this also exposes other aquatic organisms, including freshwater invertebrates, to AI viruses. Previous researchers found that AI viral RNA can be sequestered in snail tissues. Using an experimental approach, we determined whether freshwater snails (Physa acuta and Physa gyrina) can infect waterfowl with AI viruses by serving as a means of transmission between infected and naïve waterfowl via ingestion. In our first experiment, we exposed 20 Physa spp. snails to an AI virus (H3N8) and inoculated embryonated specific pathogen–free (SPF) chicken eggs with the homogenized snail tissues. Sequestered AI viruses remain infectious in snail tissues; 10% of the exposed snail tissues infected SPF eggs. In a second experiment, we exposed snails to water contaminated with feces of AI virus–inoculated Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) to evaluate whether ingestion of exposed freshwater snails was an alternate route of AI virus transmission to waterfowl. None of the immunologically naïve Mallards developed an infection, indicating that transmission via ingestion likely did not occur. Our results suggest that this particular trophic interaction may not play an important role in the transmission of AI viruses in aquatic habitats.
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Vol. 49 • No. 4