U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Avian Pathology (October 2010) 39(5), 411-418; DOI: 10.1080/03079457.2010.513043


Waterfowl and shorebirds are well-recognized natural reservoirs of low-pathogenicity avian influenza viruses (LPAIV); however, little is known about the role of passerines in avian influenza virus ecology. Passerines are abundant, widespread, and commonly come into contact with free-ranging birds as well as captive game birds and poultry. We inoculated and subsequently challenged house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) with wild-bird origin LPAIV H3N8 to evaluate their potential role in transmission. Oropharyngeal shedding was short lived, and was detected in more starlings (97.2%) than sparrows (47.2%; n = 36 of each). Cloacal shedding was rare in both species (8.3%; n = 36 of each) and no cage-mate transmission occurred. Infectious LPAIV was cultured from oropharyngeal and cloacal swabs and gastrointestinal and respiratory tissues from both species. Seroconversion was detected as early as 3 days post inoculation (d.p.i.) (16.7% of sparrows and 0% of starlings; n = 6 each); 50% of these individuals seroconverted by 5 d.p.i., and nearly all birds (97%; n = 35) seroconverted by 28 d.p.i. In general, pre-existing homologous immunity led to reduced shedding and increased antibody levels within 7 days of challenge. Limited shedding and lack of cage-mate transmission suggest that passerines are not significant reservoirs of LPAIV, although species differences apparently exist. Passerines readily and consistently seroconverted to LPAIV, and therefore inclusion of passerines in epidemiological studies of influenza outbreaks in wildlife and domestic animals may provide further insight into the potential involvement of passerines in avian influenza virus transmission ecology.