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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Environmentally Integrated Dairy Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #330631

Title: Avian influenza virus RNA in groundwater wells supplying poultry farms affected by the 2015 influenza outbreak

item Borchardt, Mark
item Spencer, Susan
item HUBBARD, LAURA - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item FIRNSTAHL, AARON - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item STOKDYK, JOEL - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item KOLPIN, DANA - Us Geological Survey (USGS)

Submitted to: Environmental Science and Technology Letters
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/26/2017
Publication Date: 5/26/2017
Publication URL:
Citation: Borchardt, M.A., Spencer, S.K., Hubbard, L.E., Firnstahl, A.D., Stokdyk, J.P., Kolpin, D.W. 2017. Avian influenza virus RNA in groundwater wells supplying poultry farms affected by the 2015 influenza outbreak. Environmental Science and Technology Letters. 4:268-272.

Interpretive Summary: During the 2015 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAI) on Midwest poultry farms it was noted that the potential for HPAI groundwater-borne transmission was unknown. Influenza virus is released in bird feces and can re-infect new birds by ingestion. As the outbreak-affected poultry farms had high virus levels in large volumes of fecal material, and the outbreaks occurred during heavy spring rains and cool temperatures, conditions were favorable for HPAI transport to groundwater. Avian influenza virus (AI) has been detected in surface waters, but there is no documentation of AI in groundwater. We sampled 20 wells on 13 outbreak-affected poultry farms in Iowa and Wisconsin and found three wells positive for the matrix gene indicative of influenza A virus. One well was also positive for the gene unique to the outbreak HPAI strain. Seven wells were positive for a parvovirus that is unique to poultry, thus providing corroborating evidence of virus transport pathways between poultry fecal waste and groundwater on these farms. To our knowledge this is the first report of positive tests for genes unique to avian influenza virus in groundwater, and it suggests that under some conditions groundwater may be an overlooked route for transmission of avian influenza virus.

Technical Abstract: Three poultry farms affected by the 2015 influenza outbreak had groundwater supplies test positive for the influenza matrix gene. One well was H5-positive, matching the outbreak virus HA gene. Virus transport to underlying aquifers was corroborated by finding poultry-specific parvovirus DNA in seven groundwater samples. Groundwater-borne influenza virus transmission warrants consideration.