Raptors may contract highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 by hunting or scavenging infected prey. However, natural H5N1 infection in raptors is rarely reported. Therefore, we tested raptors found dead during an H5N1 outbreak in wild waterbirds in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany, in 2006 for H5N1-associated disease. We tested 624 raptors of nine species-common buzzard (385), Eurasian sparrowhawk (111), common kestrel (38), undetermined species of buzzard (36), white-tailed sea eagle (19), undetermined species of raptor (12), northern goshawk (10), peregrine falcon (6), red kite (3), rough-legged buzzard (3), and western marsh-harrier (1)-for H5N1 infection in tracheal or combined tracheal/cloacal swabs of all birds, and on major tissues of all white-tailed sea eagles. H5N1 infection was detected in two species: common buzzard (12 positive, 3.1%) and peregrine falcon (2 positive, 33.3%). In all necropsied birds (both peregrine falcons and the six freshest common buzzards), H5N1 was found most consistently and at the highest concentration in the brain, and the main H5N1-associated lesion was marked non-suppurative encephalitis. Other H5N1-associated lesions occurred in air sac, lung, oviduct, heart, pancreas, coelomic ganglion, and adrenal gland. Our results show that the main cause of death in H5N1-positive raptors was encephalitis. Our results imply that H5N1 outbreaks in wild waterbirds are more likely to lead to exposure to and mortality from H5N1 in raptors that hunt or scavenge medium-sized birds, such as common buzzards and peregrine falcons, than in raptors that hunt small birds and do not scavenge, such as Eurasian sparrowhawks and common kestrels.

dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13567-015-0148-5, hdl.handle.net/1765/90094
Veterinary Research
Department of Virology

van den Brand, J.M.A, Krone, O, Wolf, P.U, van de Bildt, M.W.G, van Amerongen, G, Osterhaus, A.D.M.E, & Kuiken, T. (2015). Host-specific exposure and fatal neurologic disease in wild raptors from highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 during the 2006 outbreak in Germany. Veterinary Research, 46(1). doi:10.1186/s13567-015-0148-5