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Distribution of wild waterfowl is a good indicator of bird flu risk

Distribution of wild waterfowl is a good indicator of bird flu risk

In areas where there are many pelicans, mute swans and geese, the risk of bird flu outbreaks is higher. This data can help predict the risk of bird flu spreading in poultry farms. This is the conclusion of the PhD research conducted by Yannick Schroeder of Wageningen University and Research in collaboration with the University of Utrecht and Sovon Vogelonderzoek.

As part of her doctoral research, Schroeder investigated the environmental factors of 26 outbreaks (blue dots on the map) with highly pathogenic avian influenza in Dutch poultry farms, with some farms affected multiple times by outbreaks. These factors were compared surrounding 104 uninfected farms (white dots).

The risk of bird flu is higher in the red areas © Eigen Foto

The researcher used machine learning to analyze predictive indicators of bird flu outbreaks. Density of wild birds proved to be the best predictive indicator. Nineteen of the twenty highest indicators of avian influenza risk included wild birds. Of these, seventeen were waterfowl and birds of prey. In addition to wild birds, a feature of the landscape, agricultural use, also contributed to the prediction of avian influenza in poultry farms.

Mallard is important

Among the waterfowl, the presence and numbers of mute pelicans and pelicans appear to be the most important contributors to risk prediction, followed by the Brent goose and the wedgehog. “Highly pathogenic virus variants have been found in many recent avian influenza outbreaks in many of these waterfowl, as are many other species on the Best Predictive Bird Species list,” the researcher reported. Research shows that presence is a risk factor. How the infection entered the company then requires further investigation.

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Landscape features such as open water play a role in the presence of wild waterfowl. “My research shows that looking at the presence and numbers of wild waterfowl species is a better predictor of avian influenza than looking at the presence of landscape features.”

risk map

The research will lead to a model for predicting avian influenza risks based on numbers and species of wild birds. Schroeder created a risk map with this model. The risk of bird flu infection is highest in the red areas on the map and lowest in the dark green areas.

With this map, you can prioritize certain areas in bird flu monitoring. For example, the targeted use of preventive measures to prevent the entry of avian influenza. In addition, maps can help determine the best location for poultry farms to reduce the risk of bird flu outbreaks.

Predictive factors

Research into predictive factors for bird flu outbreaks was part of a PhD research at Utrecht University. She has worked with Wageningen University & Research and Sovon Vogelonderzoek Nederland.

This research was part of the largest sectoral influenza control project, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and Avined. The scientific publication on research into predictive indicators of avian influenza outbreaks in poultry farms was recently published in Pathogens.

Click the PDF file below for the full publication