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


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Root JJ, Shriner SA, Bentler KT, Gidlewski T, Mooers NL, et al. (2014) Shedding of a Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus in a Common Synanthropic Mammal – The Cottontail Rabbit. PLoS ONE 9(8): e102513. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102513


U.S. government work.


Background: Cottontails (Sylvilagus spp.) are common mammals throughout much of the U.S. and are often found in peridomestic settings, potentially interacting with livestock and poultry operations. If these animals are susceptible to avian influenza virus (AIV) infections and shed the virus in sufficient quantities they may pose a risk for movement of avian influenza viruses between wildlife and domestic animals in certain situations.

Methodology/Principal Findings: To assess the viral shedding potential of AIV in cottontails, we nasally inoculated fourteen cottontails with a low pathogenic AIV (H4N6). All inoculated cottontails shed relatively large quantities of viral RNA both nasally (<=106.94 PCR EID50 equivalents/mL) and orally (<=105.09 PCR EID50 equivalents/mL). However, oral shedding tended to decline more quickly than did nasal shedding. No animals showed any obvious signs of disease throughout the study. Evidence of a serological response was found in all infected rabbits at 22 days post infection in convalescent sera.

Conclusions/Significance: To our knowledge, cottontails have not been previously assessed for AIV shedding. However, it was obvious that they shed AIV RNA extensively via the nasal and oral routes. This is significant, as cottontails are widely distributed throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. These mammals are often found in highly peridomestic situations, such as farms, parks, and suburban neighborhoods, often becoming habituated to human activities. Thus, if infected these mammals could easily transport AIVs short distances.

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