Genetic Data Provide Evidence for Wind-Mediated Transmission of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

Ypma, R.J.; Jonges, M.; Bataille, A.; Stegeman, A.; Koch, G.; van Boven, M.; Koopmans, M.; Ballegooijen, W.M.; Wallinga, J.


Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry can cause severe economic damage and represent a public health threat. Development of efficient containment measures requires an understanding of how these influenza viruses are transmitted between farms. However, the actual mechanisms of interfarm transmission are largely unknown. Dispersal of infectious material by wind has been suggested, but never demonstrated, as a possible cause of transmission between farms. Here we provide statistical evidence that the direction of spread of avian influenza A(H7N7) is correlated with the direction of wind at date of infection. Using detailed genetic and epidemiological data, we found the direction of spread by reconstructing the transmission tree for a large outbreak in the Netherlands in 2003. We conservatively estimate the contribution of a possible wind-mediated mechanism to the total amount of spread during this outbreak to be around 18%.