Wild waterfowl, particularly dabbling ducks such as mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), are considered the main reservoir of low-pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIVs). They carry viruses that may evolve and become highly pathogenic for poultry or zoonotic. Understanding the ecology of LPAIVs in these natural hosts is therefore essential. We assessed the clinical response, viral shedding and antibody production of juvenile mallards after intra-esophageal inoculation of two LPAIV subtypes previously isolated from wild congeners. Six ducks, equipped with data loggers that continually monitored body temperature, heart rate and activity, were successively inoculated with an H7N7 LPAI isolate (day 0), the same H7N7 isolate again (day 21) and an H5N2 LPAI isolate (day 35). After the first H7N7 inoculation, the ducks remained alert with no modification of heart rate or activity. However, body temperature transiently increased in four individuals, suggesting that LPAIV strains may have minor clinical effects on their natural hosts. The excretion patterns observed after both re-inoculations differed strongly from those observed after the primary H7N7 inoculation, suggesting that not only homosubtypic but also heterosubtypic immunity exist. Our study suggests that LPAI infection has minor clinically measurable effects on mallards and that mallard ducks are able to mount immunological responses protective against heterologous infections. Because the transmission dynamics of LPAIVs in wild populations is greatly influenced by individual susceptibility and herd immunity, these findings are of high importance. Our study also shows the relevance of using telemetry to monitor disease in animals.
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