Equine-Like H3 Avian Influenza Viruses in Wild Birds, Chile

Since their discovery in the United States in 1963, outbreaks of infection with equine influenza virus (H3N8) have been associated with serious respiratory disease in horses worldwide. Genomic analysis suggests that equine H3 viruses are of an avian lineage, likely originating in wild birds. Equine-like internal genes have been identified in avian influenza viruses isolated from wild birds in the Southern Cone of South America. However, an equine-like H3 hemagglutinin has not been identified. We isolated 6 distinct H3 viruses from wild birds in Chile that have hemagglutinin, nucleoprotein, nonstructural protein 1, and polymerase acidic genes with high nucleotide homology to the 1963 H3N8 equine influenza virus lineage. Despite the nucleotide similarity, viruses from Chile were antigenically more closely related to avian viruses and transmitted effectively in chickens, suggesting adaptation to the avian host. These studies provide the initial demonstration that equine-like H3 hemagglutinin continues to circulate in a wild bird reservoir.