Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza Detected in New York City Wild Birds

Researchers from the New York City Virus Hunters (NYCVH) Program have discovered that a small number of wild birds in New York City carry highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza. The findings highlight the potential for zoonotic infections and pandemics to emerge not only in rural environments and commercial poultry operations but also in urban centers.

Community Involvement Crucial in Monitoring Urban Wildlife

The study, a collaboration between BioBus, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the Wild Bird Fund, is the first large-scale U.S. study of avian influenza in an urban area with active community involvement. “Birds are key to finding out which influenza and other avian viruses are circulating in the New York City area, as well as important for understanding which ones can be dangerous to both other birds and humans. And we need more eyes on the ground—that’s why community involvement is really critical,” said study co-author Christine Marizzi, PhD, principal investigator of the NYCVH Program and BioBus director of community science.

Local high school students, working as paid interns under expert mentorship, collect bird fecal samples in urban parks and green spaces while wearing appropriate protective gear. Additional samples from wild urban birds are submitted to the study by local animal rehabilitation centers. The students then help screen all samples for viruses in the Krammer laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Genetic Analysis Reveals Unique H5N1 Genotypes in New York City Birds

Out of the 1,927 samples collected and screened between January 2022 and November 2023, the researchers detected H5N1 in six city birds representing four different species. All the positive samples came from urban wildlife rehabilitation centers, emphasizing their critical role in viral surveillance.

Genetic analysis of the samples revealed that they belonged to two different genotypes, both a mix of Eurasian H5N1 clade virus and local North American avian influenza viruses. The findings underscore the importance of New York City as a popular stopover location for migrating wild birds during their remarkable journey.

Despite the presence of H5N1 in city birds, Marizzi emphasized that this does not signal the start of a human influenza pandemic. “We know that H5N1 has been around in New York City for about 2 years and there have been no human cases reported,” she said.

The NYCVH Program spreads awareness about H5N1 in city birds and provides information about what people can do to protect themselves. “It’s smart to stay alert and stay away from wildlife. This also includes preventing your pets from getting in close contact with wildlife,” Marizzi advised. When handling sick or injured birds or other animals, it is crucial to always use safe practices.

Keyword phrase: H5N1 avian influenza in New York City wild birds

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