Susceptibility of herons (family: Ardeidae) to clade H5N1 subtype high pathogenicity avian influenza virus

The pathogenicity of the H5 subtype high pathogenicity avian influenza viruses (HPAIVs) in Ardeidae bird species has not been investigated yet, despite the increasing infections reported. Therefore, the present study aimed to examine the susceptibility of the Ardeidae species, which had already been reported to be susceptible to HPAIVs, to a clade H5N1 HPAIV. Juvenile herons (4 grey herons, 1 intermediate egret, 2 little egrets, and 3 black-crowned night herons) were intranasally inoculated with 106 50% egg infectious dose of the virus and observed for 10 days. Two of the four grey herons showed lethargy and conjunctivitis; among them, one died at 6 days post-inoculation (dpi). The viruses were transmitted to the other two cohoused na?ve grey herons. Some little egrets and black-crowned night herons showing neurological disorders died at 4-5 dpi; these birds mainly shed the virus via the oral route. The viruses dominantly replicated in the brains of birds that died of infection. Seroconversion was observed in most surviving birds, except some black-crowned night herons. These results demonstrate that most Ardeidae species are susceptible to H5 HPAIVs, sometimes with lethal effects. Herons are mostly colonial and often share habitats with Anseriformes, natural hosts of influenza A viruses; therefore, the risks of cluster infection and contribution to viral dissemination should be continuously evaluated.