Highly pathogenic (HP) avian influenza A viruses (AIVs) subtype H5N1 (subclade 2.2) were detected in wild birds during outbreaks in France during winter 2006 and summer 2007 in la Dombes wetlands (eastern France) and in Moselle wetlands (northeastern France), respectively. Blood samples from apparently healthy wild birds were collected in 2006 and 2007 from the end of the outbreak to several weeks after the influenza A outbreak inside and outside the contaminated areas, and in 2008 outside the contaminated areas. The samples were tested for the presence and/or quantitation of serum antibodies to influenza A subtypes H5 and N1 using hemagglutination inhibition tests (HITs), a commercial N1-specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kit, and virus neutralization assay. In the HIT, low pathogenicity (LP) and HP H5 AIVs (belonging to H5N1, H5N2, and H5N3 subtypes) were used as antigens. One hundred mute swans were bled in the la Dombes outbreak area in 2006. During 2007, 46 mallards, 69 common pochards, and 59 mute swans were sampled in the Moselle outbreak area. For comparison, blood samples were also collected in 2007 from 60 mute swans from the Marne department where no HP H5N1 influenza A cases have been reported, and in 2008 from 111 sacred ibises in western France where no HP H5N1 influenza A infections in wild birds have been reported either. Mute swans (irrespective of their origin and time of sampling) and sacred ibises (from an area with no known outbreaks) had the highest prevalence of positive sera in the H5 HIT (49–69% and 64%, respectively). The prevalence of anti-H5 antibodies in mallards and common pochards was lower (28% and 27%, respectively). Positive H5- and N1-antibody responses were also significantly associated in swans (irrespective of their origin and time of sampling) and in sacred ibises. However, in swans from the area without outbreaks, the HIT titer against an H5N1 LPAIV was significantly higher than against an H5N1 2.2.1 HPAIV, whereas no difference could be shown for swans from the outbreak areas sampled in 2006 and 2007. These results suggest that ibises and swans from areas without declared outbreaks had acquired humoral immunity after AIV infections with subtypes H5 and N1 but independently from HP H5N1 infection. However, for swans living in outbreak areas, it cannot be excluded that this immunity might result from either a subclinical or a nonlethal infection by HP H5N1.
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Vol. 54 • No. s1