Zoonotic transmission of an H5N1 avian influenza A virus to humans in 2003–present has generated increased public health and scientific interest in the prevalence and variability of influenza A viruses in wild birds and their potential threat to human health. Migratory waterfowl and shorebirds are regarded as the primordial reservoir of all influenza A viral subtypes and have been repeatedly implicated in avian influenza outbreaks in domestic poultry and swine. All of the 16 hemagglutinin and nine neuraminidase influenza subtypes have been isolated from wild birds, but waterfowl of the order Anseriformes are the most commonly infected. Using 9-to-11-day-old embryonating chicken egg culture, virus isolation attempts were conducted on 168 cloacal swabs from various resident, imported, and migratory bird species in Barbados during the months of July to October of 2003 and 2004. Hemagglutination assay and reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction were used to screen all allantoic fluids for the presence of hemagglutinating agents and influenza A virus. Hemagglutination positive–influenza negative samples were also tested for Newcastle disease virus (NDV), which is also found in waterfowl. Two influenza A viruses and one NDV were isolated from Anseriformes (40/168), with isolation rates of 5.0% (2/40) and 2.5% (1/40), respectively, for influenza A and NDV. Sequence analysis of the influenza A virus isolates showed them to be H4N3 viruses that clustered with other North American avian influenza viruses. This is the first report of the presence of influenza A virus and NDV in wild birds in the English-speaking Caribbean.
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Vol. 51 • No. 3