Mallards are important natural hosts involved in the epidemiology of low pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIVs). LPAIVs are mainly transmitted by a fecal-oral route and are excreted in high concentrations in the feces. We investigated the pathology, viral antigen distribution, and the expression of α2,3 sialic acid (SA) influenza virus receptors in mallards after intranasal inoculation with A/Mallard/MN/199106/99 (H3N8) or A/Mallard/MN/355779/00 (H5N2). Gross lesions were not observed. Avian influenza virus (AIV) nucleoprotein (NP) antigen was detected in rare epithelial cells of the larynx and trachea only at 1-day postinoculation (dpi) in the birds infected with H3N8 LPAIV, but infection with either virus was associated with lymphocytic tracheitis and laryngitis on 1 and 2 dpi. AIV NP antigen was detected in enterocytes of the lower intestine from 1 to 4 dpi and in epithelial cells of the bursa of Fabricius from 2 to 3 dpi in birds infected with either virus. Oropharyngeal and cloacal viral shedding was detected from 1 dpi, with higher cloacal viral shedding detected at 2 and 3 dpi with both viruses. Mallards abundantly expressed α2,3 sialic acid receptors in epithelial cells of the respiratory tract, lower intestine, and bursa of Fabricius. Some infected birds had decreased α2,3 sialic acid expression in epithelial cells of the bursa of Fabricius and in enterocytes of the ceca and colon. In conclusion, the main sites of LPAIV replication in mallards are the enterocytes of the lower intestinal tract and epithelial cells of the bursa of Fabricius in the first days after infection, when these birds are shedding AIV in high titers in the feces.
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Vol. 56 • No. 4s1