Zoonotic Mutation of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 Virus Identified in the Brain of Multiple Wild Carnivore Species

S. Vreman*, Marja Kik, E.A. Germeraad, C.G. Heutink, F.L. Harders, Marcel Spierenburg, M.Y. Engelsma, Jolianne Rijks , Judith van den Brand, N. Beerens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Wild carnivore species infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus subtype H5N1 during the 2021–2022 outbreak in the Netherlands included red fox (Vulpes vulpes), polecat (Mustela putorius), otter (Lutra lutra), and badger (Meles meles). Most of the animals were submitted for testing because they showed neurological signs. In this study, the HPAI H5N1 virus was detected by PCR and/or immunohistochemistry in 11 animals and was primarily present in brain tissue, often associated with a (meningo) encephalitis in the cerebrum. In contrast, the virus was rarely detected in the respiratory tract and intestinal tract and associated lesions were minimal.Full genome sequencing followed by phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that these carnivore viruses were related to viruses detected in wild birds in the Netherlands. The carnivore viruses themselves were not closely related, and the infected carnivores did not cluster geographically, suggesting that they were infected separately. The mutation PB2-E627K was identified in most carnivore virus genomes, providing evidence for mammalian adaptation. This study showed that brain samples should be included in wild life surveillance programs for the reliable detection of the HPAI H5N1virus in mammals. Surveillance of the wild carnivore population and notification to the Veterinary Authority are important from a one-heath perspective, and instrumental to pandemic preparedness.
Original languageEnglish
Article number168
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2023


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