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


Date of this Version



Golden GJ, Grady MJ, McLean HE, Shriner SA, Hartwig A, Bowen RA, et al. (2021) Biodetection of a specific odor signature in mallard feces associated with infection by low pathogenic avian influenza A virus. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0251841.

doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0251841


U.S. government work


Outbreaks of avian influenza virus (AIV) infection included the spread of highly pathogenic AIV in commercial poultry and backyard flocks in the spring of 2015. This resulted in estimated losses of more than $8.5 million from federal government expenditures, $1.6 billion from direct losses to produces arising from destroyed turkey and chicken egg production, and economy-wide indirect costs of $3.3 billion from impacts on retailers and the food service industries. Additionally, these outbreaks resulted in the death or depopulation of nearly 50 million domestic birds. Domesticated male ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) were trained to display a specific conditioned behavior (i.e. active scratch alert) in response to feces from AIV-infected mallards in comparison to feces from healthy ducks. In order to establish that ferrets were identifying samples based on odors associated with infection, additional experiments controlled for potentially confounding effects, such as: individual duck identity, housing and feed, inoculation concentration, and day of sample collection (post-infection). A final experiment revealed that trained ferrets could detect AIV infection status even in the presence of samples from mallards inoculated with Newcastle disease virus or infectious laryngotracheitis virus. These results indicate that mammalian biodetectors are capable of discriminating the specific odors emitted from the feces of non-infected versus AIV infected mallards, suggesting that the health status of waterfowl can be evaluated non-invasively for AIV infection via monitoring of volatile fecal metabolites. Furthermore, in situ monitoring using trained biodetectors may be an effective tool for assessing population health.