Avian influenza virus (AIV) prevalence in wild aquatic bird populations varies with season, geographic location, host species, and age. It is not clear how age at infection affects the extent of viral shedding. To better understand the influence of age at infection on viral shedding of wild bird–origin low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) viruses, mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) of increasing age (2 wk, 1 mo, 2 mo, 3 mo, and 4 mo) were experimentally inoculated via choanal cleft with a 106 median embryo infectious dose (EID50) of either A/Mallard/MN/355779/00 (H5N2) or A/Mallard/MN/199106/99 (H3N8). Exposed birds in all five age groups were infected by both AIV isolates and excreted virus via the oropharynx and cloaca. The 1-month and older groups consistently shed virus from 1 to 4 d post inoculation (dpi), whereas, viral shedding was delayed by 1 d in the 2-wk-old group. Past 4 dpi, viral shedding in all groups varied between individual birds, but virus was isolated from some birds in each group up to 21 dpi when the trial was terminated. The 1-mo-old group had the most productive shedding with a higher number of cloacal swabs that tested positive for virus over the study period and lower cycle threshold values on real-time reverse-transcription PCR. The viral shedding pattern observed in this study suggests that, although mallards from different age groups can become infected and shed LPAI viruses, age at time of infection might have an effect on the extent of viral shedding and thereby impact transmission of LPAI viruses within the wild bird reservoir system. This information may help us better understand the natural history of these viruses, interpret field and experimental data, and plan future experimental trials.
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Vol. 54 • No. s1