Spatial and temporal association of outbreaks of H5N1 influenza virus infection in wild birds with the 0°c isotherm
Wild bird movements and aggregations following spells of cold weather may have resulted in the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) H5N1 in Europe during the winter of 2005-2006. Waterbirds are constrained in winter to areas where bodies of water remain unfrozen in order to feed. On the one hand, waterbirds may choose to winter as close as possible to their breeding grounds in order to conserve energy for subsequent reproduction, and may be displaced by cold fronts. On the other hand, waterbirds may choose to winter in regions where adverse weather conditions are rare, and may be slowed by cold fronts upon their journey back to the breeding grounds, which typically starts before the end of winter. Waterbirds will thus tend to aggregate along cold fronts close to the 0°C isotherm during winter, creating conditions that favour HPAIV H5N1 transmission and spread. We determined that the occurrence of outbreaks of HPAIV H5N1 infection in waterbirds in Europe during the winter of 2005-2006 was associated with temperatures close to 0°C. The analysis suggests a significant spatial and temporal association of outbreaks caused by HPAIV H5N1 in wild birds with maximum surface air temperatures of 0°C-2°C on the day of the outbreaks and the two preceding days. At locations where waterbird census data have been collected since 1990, maximum mallard counts occurred when average and maximum surface air temperatures were 0°C and 3°C, respectively. Overall, the abundance of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and common pochards (Aythya ferina) was highest when surface air temperatures were lower than the mean temperatures of the region investigated. The analysis implies that waterbird movements associated with cold weather, and congregation of waterbirds along the 0°C isotherm likely contributed to the spread and geographical distribution of outbreaks of HPAIV H5N1 infection in wild birds in Europe during the winter of 2005-2006.