Is Australia as protected from potentially serious host-jumping virus outbreaks as previously thought?

A GCEID team has discovered coronaviruses in Australia’s wild birds, showing the nation is not as isolated from potentially serious host-jumping virus outbreaks as previously thought. The researchers, led by the Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases (GCEID), has discovered that two different types of coronaviruses are present in Australian wild birds. The discovery marks an important step in building scientists’ understanding of this family of viruses, which have a history of being able to jump into new host species and cause disease.

Read more on this @ Deakin Invenio: Virus discovery in Australian wild birds

The study is the first to demonstrate the presence of coronaviruses in Australian wild birds, and was published in “Nature: Scientific Reports”. See below for more details:

Authors: Anthony Chamings, Tiffanie M. Nelson, Jessy Vibin, Michelle Wille, Marcel Klaassen & Soren Alexandersen

Source: Scientific Reports, Volume 8, Article number: 5980 (2018)

Brief summary of the paper: We evaluated the presence of coronaviruses by PCR in 918 Australian wild bird samples collected during 2016–17. Coronaviruses were detected in 141 samples (15.3%) from species of ducks, shorebirds and herons and from multiple sampling locations.

Sequencing of selected positive samples found mainly gammacoronaviruses, but also some deltacoronaviruses. The detection rate of coronaviruses was improved by using multiple PCR assays, as no single assay could detect all coronavirus positive samples. Sequencing of the relatively conserved Orf1 PCR amplicons found that Australian duck gammacoronaviruses were similar to duck gammacoronaviruses around the world.

Some sequenced shorebird gammacoronaviruses belonged to Charadriiformes lineages, but others were more closely related to duck gammacoronaviruses. Australian duck and heron deltacoronaviruses belonged to lineages with other duck and heron deltacoronaviruses, but were almost 20% different in nucleotide sequence to other deltacoronavirus sequences available. Deltacoronavirus sequences from shorebirds formed a lineage with a deltacoronavirus from a ruddy turnstone detected in the United States.

Given that Australian duck gammacoronaviruses are highly similar to those found in other regions, and Australian ducks rarely come into contact with migratory Palearctic duck species, we hypothesise that migratory shorebirds are the important vector for moving wild bird coronaviruses into and out of Australia.