Current avian influenza (AI) virus surveillance programs involving wild birds rely on sample collection methods that require refrigeration or low temperature freezing to maintain sample integrity for virus isolation and/or reverse-transcriptase (RT) PCR. Maintaining the cold chain is critical for the success of these diagnostic assays but is not always possible under field conditions. The aim of this study was to test the utility of Finders Technology Associates (FTA®) cards for reliable detection of AI virus from cloacal and oropharyngeal swabs of wild birds. The minimum detectable titer was determined, and the effect of room temperature storage was evaluated experimentally using multiple egg-propagated stock viruses (n = 6). Using real time RT-PCR, we compared results from paired cloacal swab and samples collected on FTA cards from both experimentally infected mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and hunter-harvested waterfowl sampled along the Texas Gulf Coast. Based on the laboratory trials, the average minimal detectable viral titer was determined to be 1 × 104.7 median embryo infectious dose (EID50)/ml (range: 1 × 104.3 to 1 × 105.4 EID50/ml), and viral RNA was consistently detectable on the FTA cards for a minimum of 20 days and up to 30 days for most subtypes at room temperature (23 C) storage. Real-time RT-PCR of samples collected using the FTA cards showed fair to good agreement in live birds when compared with both real-time RT-PCR and virus isolation of swabs. AI virus detection rates in samples from several wild bird species were higher when samples were collected using the FTA cards compared with cloacal swabs. These results suggest that FTA cards can be used as an alternative sample collection method when traditional surveillance methods are not possible, especially in avian populations that have historically received limited testing or situations in which field conditions limit the ability to properly store or ship swab samples.
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