Twelve influenza A viruses, antigenically related to the H0, H1 and Hsw1 subtypes, were isolated from cloacal samples of feral ducks in Canada. Antigenic comparisons showed that these viruses were most closely related to the recent Hsw1N1 isolates from man and pigs, whereas pathogenicity tests revealed differences between the Hsw1N1 viruses from the ducks and those from humans and pigs.

Antigenic characterization of 94 additional influenza A viruses from the ducks showed four haemagglutinin subtypes (Hav1, Hav4, Hav5 and Hav7), an unclassified haemagglutinin, and six neuraminidase subtypes (N1, N2, Neq2, Nav1, Nav2 and Nav5) in various combinations, some of which are novel and have not previously been reported. Three of these duck influenza viruses possessed a haemagglutinin antigenically related to that of classical fowl plague virus. A much higher percentage of virus isolations were from juvenile ducks (18.5%) than from adults (5%). All of the ducks, from which viruses were isolated, appeared healthy at the time of sampling. Serological studies on a limited number of humans and domestic birds living in close proximity to the Canadian ducks revealed no evidence of interspecies transmission.

Our findings suggest that these birds serve as a substantial reservoir of antigenically diverse influenza viruses, including isolates antigenically related to the current human and animal influenza viruses. This reservoir in nature may be perpetuated by a cycle involving annual infection of juvenile birds followed by transmission to the remaining susceptible birds until the next congregation during the breeding season.


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