Cyclic avian mass mortality in the northeastern United States is associated with a novel orthomyxovirus

Andrew B. Allison, Jennifer R. Ballard, Robert B. Tesh, Justin D. Brown, Mark G. Ruder, M. Kevin Keel, Brandon A. Munk, Randall M. Mickley, Samantha E J Gibbs, Amelia P A Travassos da Rosa, Julie C. Ellis, Hon S. Ip, Valerie I. Shearn-Bochsler, Matthew B. Rogers, Elodie Ghedin, Edward C. Holmes, Colin R. Parrish, Chris Dwyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since 1998, cyclic mortality events in common eiders (Somateria mollissima), numbering in the hundreds to thousands of dead birds, have been documented along the coast of Cape Cod, MA, USA. Although longitudinal disease investigations have uncovered potential contributing factors responsible for these outbreaks, detecting a primary etiological agent has proven enigmatic. Here, we identify a novel orthomyxovirus, tentatively named Wellfleet Bay virus (WFBV), as a potential causative agent of these outbreaks. Genomic analysis of WFBV revealed that it is most closely related to members of the Quaranjavirus genus within the family Orthomyxoviridae. Similar to other members of the genus, WFBV contains an alphabaculovirus gp64-like glycoprotein that was demonstrated to have fusion activity; this also tentatively suggests that ticks (and/or insects) may vector the virus in nature. However, in addition to the six RNA segments encoding the prototypical structural proteins identified in other quaranjaviruses, a previously unknown RNA segment (segment 7) encoding a novel protein designated VP7 was discovered in WFBV. Although WFBV shows low to moderate levels of sequence similarity to Quaranfil virus and Johnston Atoll virus, the original members of the Quaranjavirus genus, additional antigenic and genetic analyses demonstrated that it is closely related to the recently identified Cygnet River virus (CyRV) from South Australia, suggesting that WFBV and CyRV may be geographic variants of the same virus. Although the identification of WFBV in part may resolve the enigma of these mass mortality events, the details of the ecology and epidemiology of the virus remain to be determined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1389-1403
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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