Duck, Duck, Groom

The preening oil that wild waterbirds spread over their feathers may be acting as a magnet for avian flu viruses, according to a PLoS ONE study.

Researchers studied 345 mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) in Italy and found that 27 percent of the birds tested positive for avian flu virus on their feathers. When feather tufts or cotton swabs were covered with preen oil in the lab, they accumulated flu virus particles from contaminated water.

Preening is common to all waterbirds and could be the reason that avian flu virus shows up in so many different species, the authors say. Surveillance programs may need to include feather sampling in their tests to avoid missing some of these virus-carrying birds. – Roberta Kwok

Source: Delogu, M. et al. 2010. Can preening contribute to influenza A virus infection in wild waterbirds? PLoS ONE 5(6): e11315. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011315.

Image © Kittisuper,