Metapopulation dynamics enable persistence of influenza A, including A/H5N1, in poultry

Parviez Rana Hosseini, Trevon Fuller, Ryan Harrigan, Delong Zhao, Carmen Sofia Arriola, Armandoe Gonzalez, Matthew Joshua Miller, Xiangming Xiao, Tom B Smith, Jamie Holland Jones, Peter Daszak, PLOS ONE 8 :e80091 (2013).

Abstract

Highly pathogenic influenza A/H5N1 has persistently but sporadically caused human illness and death since 1997. Yet it is still unclear how this pathogen is able to persist globally. While wild birds seem to be a genetic reservoir for influenza A, they do not seem to be the main source of human illness. Here, we highlight the role that domestic poultry may play in maintaining A/H5N1 globally, using theoretical models of spatial population structure in poultry populations. We find that a metapopulation of moderately sized poultry flocks can sustain the pathogen in a finite poultry population for over two years. Our results suggest that it is possible that moderately intensive backyard farms could sustain the pathogen indefinitely in real systems. This fits a pattern that has been observed from many empirical systems. Rather than just employing standard culling procedures to control the disease, our model suggests ways that poultry production systems may be modified.