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Wild waterfowl populations form a natural reservoir of Avian Influenza (AI) virus, and fears exist that these birds may contribute to an AI pandemic by spreading the virus along their migratory flyways. Observational studies suggest that individuals infected with AI virus may delay departure from migratory staging sites. Here, we explore the epidemiological dynamics of avian influenza virus in a migrating mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) population with a specific view to understanding the role of infection-induced migration delays on the spread of virus strains of differing transmissibility. We develop a host-pathogen model that combines the transmission dynamics of influenza with the migration, reproduction and mortality of the host bird species. Our modeling predicts that delayed migration of individuals influences both the timing and size of outbreaks of AI virus. We find that (1) delayed migration leads to a lower total number of cases of infection each year than in the absence of migration delay, (2) when the transmission rate of a strain is high, the outbreak starts at the staging sites at which birds arrive in the early part of the fall migration, (3) when the transmission rate is low, infection predominantly occurs later in the season, which is further delayed when there is a migration delay. As such, the rise of more virulent AI strains in waterfowl could lead to a higher prevalence of infection later in the year, which could change the exposure risk for farmed poultry. A sensitivity analysis shows the importance of generation time and loss of immunity for the effect of migration delays. Thus, we demonstrate, in contrast to many current transmission risk models solely using empirical information on bird movements to assess the potential for transmission, that a consideration of infection-induced delays is critical to understanding the dynamics of AI infection along the entire flyway.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere26118
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2011

ID: 100831