Skip to main content Accessibility help

Serological and molecular surveys of influenza A viruses in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic wild birds

  • Oliver Gittins (a1), Llorenç Grau-Roma (a1) (a2), Rosa Valle (a3), Francesc Xavier Abad (a3), Miquel Nofrarías (a3), Peter G. Ryan (a4), Jacob González-Solís (a5) and Natàlia Majó (a3) (a6)...


To evaluate how avian influenza virus (AIV) circulates among the avifauna of the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands, we surveyed 14 species of birds from Marion, Livingston and Gough islands. A competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was carried out on the sera of 147 birds. Quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction was used to detect the AIV genome from 113 oropharyngeal and 122 cloacal swabs from these birds. The overall seroprevalence to AIV infection was 4.8%, with the only positive results coming from brown skuas (Catharacta antarctica) (4 out of 18, 22%) and southern giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus) (3 out of 24, 13%). Avian influenza virus antibodies were detected in birds sampled from Marion and Gough islands, with a higher seroprevalence on Marion Island (P = 0.014) and a risk ratio of 11.29 (95% confidence interval: 1.40–91.28) compared to Gough Island. The AIV genome was not detected in any of the birds sampled. These results confirm that AIV strains are uncommon among Antarctic and sub-Antarctic predatory seabirds, but they may suggest that scavenging seabirds are the main avian reservoirs and spreaders of this virus in the Southern Ocean. Further studies are necessary to determine the precise role of these species in the epidemiology of AIV.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Abad, F.X., Busquets, N., Sanchez, A., Ryan, P.G., Majó, N. & Gonzalez-Solís, J. 2013. Serological and virological surveys of the influenza A viruses in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic penguins. Antarctic Science, 25, 10.1017/S0954102012001228.
Afanador-Villamizar, A., Gomez-Romero, C., Diaz, A. & Ruiz-Saenz, J. 2017. Avian influenza in Latin America: a systematic review of serological and molecular studies from 2000–2015. PloS One, 12, e0179573.
Austin, F. & Webster, R. 1993. Evidence of ortho- and paramyxoviruses in fauna from Antarctica. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 29, 568571.
Barbosa, A. & Palacios, M.J. 2009. Health of Antarctic birds: a review of their parasites, pathogens and diseases. Polar Biology, 32, 10.1007/s00300-009-0640-3.
Baumeister, E., Leotta, G., Pontoriero, A., Campos, A., Montalti, D., Vigo, G., Pecoraro, M. & Savy, V. 2004. Serological evidences of influenza A virus infection in Antarctica migratory birds. International Congress Series, 1263, 10.1016/j.ics.2004.02.099.
Birdlife International. 2018. Data zone: Southern Giant petrel and Brown skuas. Available at (accessed September 2018).
Brown, J.D., Stallknecht, D.E., Beck, J.R., Suarez, D.L. & Swayne, D.E. 2006. Susceptibility of North American ducks and gulls to H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 12, 10.3201/eid1211.060652.
Brown, J.D., Luttrell, M.P., Uhart, M.M., Ferreyra, H. del V., Romano, M.M., Rago, M.V. & Stallknecht, D.E. 2010. Antibodies to type A influenza virus in wild waterbirds from Argentina. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 46, 10401045.
Busquets, N., Alba, A., Napp, S., Sánchez, A., Serrano, E., Rivas, R., et al. 2010. Influenza A virus subtypes in wild birds in north-eastern Spain (Catalonia). Virus Research, 149, 10.1016/j.virusres.2009.12.005.
Conroy, J. 1972. Ecological Aspects of the Biology of the Giant Petrel, Macronectes giganteus (Gmelin), in the Maritime Antarctic. Cambridge: British Antarctic Survey.
Egevang, C., Stenhouse, I.J., Phillips, R.A., Petersen, A., Fox, J.W. & Silk, J.R. 2010. Tracking of Arctic terns Sterna paradisaea reveals longest animal migration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 20782081.
Ely, C.R., Hall, J.S., Schmutz, J.A., Pearce, J.M., Terenzi, J., Sedinger, J.S. & Ip, H.S. 2013. Evidence that life history characteristics of wild birds influence infection and exposure to influenza A viruses. PLoS One, 8, e57614.
FAO. 2018. 2016–2018 spread of H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in sub-Saharan Africa: epidemiological and ecological observations. Available at: (accessed October 2018).
Grillo, V., Arzey, K., Hansbro, P., Hurt, A., Warner, S., Bergfeld, J., et al. 2015. Avian influenza in Australia: a summary of 5 years of wild bird surveillance. Australian Veterinary Journal, 93, 10.1111/avj.12379.
Hunter, S. 1983. The food and feeding ecology of the giant petrels Macronectes halli and M. giganteus at South Georgia. Journal of Zoology, 200, 521538.
Hurt, A.C., Su, Y.C.F., Aban, M., Peck, H., Lau, H., Baas, C., et al. 2016. Evidence for the introduction, reassortment, and persistence of diverse influenza A viruses in Antarctica. Journal of Virology, 90, 10.1128/JVI.01404-16.
Hurt, A.C., Vijaykrishna, D., Butler, J., Baas, C., Maurer-Stroh, S., Silva-de-la-Fuente, M.C., et al. 2014. Detection of evolutionarily distinct avian influenza A viruses in Antarctica. mBio, 5, 10.1128/mBio.01098-14.
Kilpatrick, A.M., Chmura, A.A., Gibbons, D.W., Fleischer, R.C., Marra, P.P. & Daszak, P. 2006. Predicting the global spread of H5N1 avian influenza. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103, 1936819373.
McMahon, C.R. 2010. Health of Antarctic wildlife: a challenge for science and policy. Polar Research, 29, 10.1111/j.1751-8369.2010.00182.x.
Miller, G.D., Watts, J.M. & Shellam, G.R. 2008. Viral antibodies in south polar skuas around Davis Station, Antarctica. Antarctic Science, 20, 10.1017/S0954102008001259.
Olsen, B., Munster, V.J., Wallensten, A., Waldenström, J., Osterhaus, A.D.M.E. & Fouchier, R.A.M. 2006. Global patterns of influenza A virus in wild birds. Science, 312, 10.1126/science.1122438.
Ramos i Garcia, R., Garnier, R., González-Solís, J. & Boulinier, T. 2014. Long antibody persistence and transgenerational immonoresponse in a long-lived vertebrate. American Naturalist, 185, 764776.
Renata, H. & Thijl, V.R.E. 2016. Avian influenza in wild birds from South America: review, implications and perspectives. Exploratory Research and Hypothesis in Medicine, 1, 6274.
Roscales, J.L., González-Solís, J., Zango, L., Ryan, P.G. & Jiménez, B. 2016. Latitudinal exposure to DDTs, HCB, PCBs, PBDEs and DP in giant petrels (Macronectes spp.) across the Southern Ocean. Environmental Research, 148, 285294.
Shirihai, H. 2008. The Complete Guide to the Antarctic Wildlife. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Silva, M.P., Favero, M., Casaux, R. & Baroni, A. 1998. The status of breeding birds at Harmony Point, Nelson Island, Antarctica in summer 1995/96. Marine Ornithology, 26, 7578.
Souza Petersen, E., Araujo, J., Krüger, L., Seixas, M., Ometto, T., Thomazelli, L., et al. 2017. First detection of avian influenza virus (H4N7) in giant petrel monitored by geolocators in the Antarctic region. International Journal on Life in Oceans and Coastal Waters, 164, 10.1007/s00227-017-3086-0.
Spackman, E., Senne, D.A., Myers, T., Bulaga, L.L., Garber, L.P., Perdue, M.L., et al. 2002. Development of a real-time reverse transcriptase PCR assay for type A influenza virus and the avian H5 and H7 hemagglutinin subtypes. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 40, 32563260.
Stonehouse, B. 1956. The Brown Skua (Catharacta skua lönnbergi, Mathews) of South Georgia. Richmond: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
Webster, R.G., Bean, W.J., Gorman, O.T., Chambers, T.M. & Kawaoka, Y. 1992. Evolution and ecology of influenza A viruses. Microbiological Reviews, 56, 152179.
Weimerskirch, H., Tarroux, A., Chastel, O., Delord, K., Cherel, Y. & Descamps, S. 2015. Population-specific wintering distributions of adult south polar skuas over three oceans. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 538, 229237.


Serological and molecular surveys of influenza A viruses in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic wild birds

  • Oliver Gittins (a1), Llorenç Grau-Roma (a1) (a2), Rosa Valle (a3), Francesc Xavier Abad (a3), Miquel Nofrarías (a3), Peter G. Ryan (a4), Jacob González-Solís (a5) and Natàlia Majó (a3) (a6)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed