Genuine lethal infection of a wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) with high pathogenicity avian influenza H5N1, clade 220.127.116.11b, in Germany, 2022
Despite the increasing frequency of avian influenza (AI) cases in wild birds in Europe during the last decade, doves and pigeons were not recognized to be part of the AI epidemiology. Here we describe a natural, lethal HPAIV infection of subtype H5N1, clade 18.104.22.168b, in a wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) in Germany, 2022. The animal was housed in a bird sanctuary that suffered an HPAI-outbreak with multiple bird species affected. The pigeon's post mortem findings were dominated by an acute lymphohistiocytic meningoencephalitis as well as neuronal necrosis in the grey matter of the cerebral hemispheres and in the brain stem. Influenza A viral antigen was associated to these alterations with a striking ependymal and periventricular distribution most probably indicating intraventicular liquorogenic spread of the virus. In addition, typical severe multifocal to coalescing necrotizing pancreatitis was evident. Occasionally, vascular endothelial cells showed an intense viral antigen staining. Examination of oropharyngeal and cloacal swabs and of various tissues by real-time RT-PCR corroborated systemic infection with highly pathogenic (HP) AIV of subtype H5N1. Viral loads soared in brain and pancreas samples. Full genome sequencing directly from brain tissue confirmed the assignment of the virus to clade 22.214.171.124b of the goose/Guangdong lineage bearing a polybasic hemagglutinin cleavage site. Our results demonstrate the principal susceptibility of wood pigeons to HPAIV H5N1 resulting in a sporadic infection. Considering the wide distribution and roaming of wild, feral, and racing pigeons with often close contact to humans, thorough investigation of suspected cases including pathological manifestation is advisable.