The Microbiota Contributes to the Control of Highly Pathogenic H5N9 Influenza Virus Replication in Ducks

Thomas Figueroa, Pierre Bessière, Amelia Coggon, Kim M Bouwman, Roosmarijn van der Woude, Maxence Delverdier, Monique H Verheije, Robert P de Vries, Romain Volmer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Ducks usually show little or no clinical signs following highly pathogenic avian influenza virus infection. In order to analyze whether the microbiota could contribute to the control of influenza virus replication in ducks, we used a broad-spectrum oral antibiotic treatment to deplete the microbiota before infection with a highly pathogenic H5N9 avian influenza virus. Antibiotic-treated ducks and nontreated control ducks did not show any clinical signs following H5N9 virus infection. We did not detect any significant difference in virus titers neither in the respiratory tract nor in the brain nor spleen. However, we found that antibiotic-treated H5N9 virus-infected ducks had significantly increased intestinal virus excretion at days 3 and 5 postinfection. This was associated with a significantly decreased antiviral immune response in the intestine of antibiotic-treated ducks. Our findings highlight the importance of an intact microbiota for an efficient control of avian influenza virus replication in ducks.IMPORTANCE Ducks are frequently infected with avian influenza viruses belonging to multiple subtypes. They represent an important reservoir species of avian influenza viruses, which can occasionally be transmitted to other bird species or mammals, including humans. Ducks thus have a central role in the epidemiology of influenza virus infection. Importantly, ducks usually show little or no clinical signs even following infection with a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus. We provide evidence that the microbiota contributes to the control of influenza virus replication in ducks by modulating the antiviral immune response. Ducks are able to control influenza virus replication more efficiently when they have an intact intestinal microbiota. Therefore, maintaining a healthy microbiota by limiting perturbations to its composition should contribute to the prevention of avian influenza virus spread from the duck reservoir.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00289-20
Pages (from-to)1-17
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2020


  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild/virology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/therapeutic use
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Ducks/microbiology
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Humans
  • Ileum/pathology
  • Influenza A virus/immunology
  • Influenza in Birds/immunology
  • Intestines/microbiology
  • Lung/pathology
  • Microbiota/drug effects
  • Poly I-C/therapeutic use
  • Respiratory System/virology
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Replication/physiology


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