Gulls are widely recognized reservoirs for low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) viruses; however, the subtypes maintained in these populations and/or the transmission mechanisms involved are poorly understood. Although, a wide diversity of influenza viruses have been isolated from gulls, two hemagglutinin subtypes (H13 and H16) are rarely detected in other avian groups, and existing surveillance data suggests they are maintained almost exclusively within gull populations. In order to evaluate the host range of these gull-adapted influenza subtypes and to characterize viral infection in the gull host, we conducted a series of challenge experiments, with multiple North American strains of H13 LPAI virus in ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), chickens (Gallus domesticus), and turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). The susceptibility to H13 LPAI viruses varied between species and viral strain. Gulls were highly susceptible to H13 LPAI virus infection and excreted virus via the oropharynx and cloaca for several days. The quantity and duration of shedding was similar between the two routes. Turkeys and ducks were resistant to infection with most strains of H13 LPAI virus, but low numbers of inoculated birds were infected after challenge with specific viral strains. Chickens were refractory to infection with all strains of H13 LPAI virus they were challenged with. The experimental results presented herein are consistent with existing surveillance data on H13 LPAI viruses in birds, and indicate that influenza viruses of the H13 subtype are strongly host-adapted to gulls, but rare spill-over into aberrant hosts (i.e., turkeys and ducks) can occur.
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