Recurring Trans-Atlantic Incursion of Clade H5N1 Viruses by Long Distance Migratory Birds from Northern Europe to Canada in 2022/2023

In December 2022 and January 2023, we isolated clade H5N1 high-pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) viruses from six American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) from Prince Edward Island and a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) from Newfoundland, Canada. Using full-genome sequencing and phylogenetic analysis, these viruses were found to fall into two distinct phylogenetic clusters: one group containing H5N1 viruses that had been circulating in North and South America since late 2021, and the other one containing European H5N1 viruses reported in late 2022. The transatlantic re-introduction for the second time by pelagic/Icelandic bird migration via the same route used during the 2021 incursion of Eurasian origin H5N1 viruses into North America demonstrates that migratory birds continue to be the driving force for transcontinental dissemination of the virus. This new detection further demonstrates the continual long-term threat of H5N1 viruses for poultry and mammals and the subsequent impact on various wild bird populations wherever these viruses emerge. The continual emergence of clade H5Nx viruses requires vigilant surveillance in wild birds, particularly in areas of the Americas, which lie within the migratory corridors for long-distance migratory birds originating from Europe and Asia. Although H5Nx viruses have been detected at higher rates in North America since 2021, a bidirectional flow of H5Nx genes of American origin viruses to Europe has never been reported. In the future, coordinated and systematic surveillance programs for HPAI viruses need to be launched between European and North American agencies.