Extended Viral Shedding of a Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus by Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis)

J. Jeffrey Root, Susan A. Shriner, Kevin T. Bentler, Thomas Gidlewski, Nicole L. Mooers, Jeremy W. Ellis, Terry R. Spraker, Kaci K. VanDalen, Heather J. Sullivan, Alan B. Franklin: United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, Colorado, United States of America, United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Disease Program, Fort Collins, Colorado, United States of America, Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, United States of America

Abstract

Background: Striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are susceptible to infection with some influenza A viruses. However, the
viral shedding capability of this peri-domestic mammal and its potential role in influenza A virus ecology are largely
undetermined.

Methodology/Principal Findings: Striped skunks were experimentally infected with a low pathogenic (LP) H4N6 avian
influenza virus (AIV) and monitored for 20 days post infection (DPI). All of the skunks exposed to H4N6 AIV shed large
quantities of viral RNA, as detected by real-time RT-PCR and confirmed for live virus with virus isolation, from nasal washes
and oral swabs (maximum #106.02 PCR EID50 equivalent/mL and #105.19 PCR EID50 equivalent/mL, respectively). Some
evidence of potential fecal shedding was also noted. Following necropsy on 20 DPI, viral RNA was detected in the nasal
turbinates of one individual. All treatment animals yielded evidence of a serological response by 20 DPI.

Conclusions/Significance: These results indicate that striped skunks have the potential to shed large quantities of viral RNA
through the oral and nasal routes following exposure to a LP AIV. Considering the peri-domestic nature of these animals,
along with the duration of shedding observed in this species, their presence on poultry and waterfowl operations could
influence influenza A virus epidemiology. For example, this species could introduce a virus to a naive poultry flock or act as a
trafficking mechanism of AIV to and from an infected poultry flock to naive flocks or wild bird populations.

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