Skunks, rabbits can indirectly transmit AI viruses, government research indicates
Striped skunks and cottontail rabbits can indirectly transmit low-pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) to mallard ducks, government research indicates.
In experiments conducted by the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC), striped skunks and cottontail rabbits were inoculated with LPAI.
Researchers then removed skunks from their pens and replaced them with four mallards to expose them to potentially LPAI-contaminated items. One of the ducks became infected. In a similar experiment, researchers housed inoculated rabbits with five uninoculated mallards, and one of the ducks became infected through shared water and food sources, USDA reports.
Striped skunks and cottontail rabbits are common visitors to farms across the country and they frequent riparian areas and wetlands that are home to many waterfowl species, which have been implicated in the spread of AI to commercial flocks. These recent findings, USDA says, indicate that skunks and rabbits may also be potential carriers of AI viruses that pose a threat to commercial and poultry farms.
“When wildlife and poultry interact and both can carry and spread a potentially damaging agricultural pathogen, it’s cause for concern,” says Jeff Root, the NWRC research wildlife biologist credited with the recent findings.
Root is one of several NWRC researchers studying the role wild mammals may play in the spread of AI viruses. In 2015, a highly pathogenic form of AI devastated commercial poultry flocks in Minnesota and Iowa.