Highlighting the complexities of a groundwater pilot study during an avian influenza outbreak: Methods, lessons learned, and select contaminant results

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The highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N2) outbreak in the Midwestern United States (US) in 2015 was historic due to the number of birds and poultry operations impacted and the corresponding economic loss to the poultry industry and was the largest animal health emergency in US history. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), with the assistance of several state and federal agencies, aided the response to the outbreak by developing a study to determine the extent of virus transport in the environment. The study goals were to: develop the appropriate sampling methods and protocols for measuring avian influenza virus (AIV) in groundwater, provide the first baseline data on AIV and outbreak- and poultry-related contaminant occurrence and movement into groundwater, and document climatological factors that may have affected both survival and transport of AIV to groundwater during the months of the 2015 outbreak. While site selection was expedient, there were often delays in sample response times due to both relationship building between agencies, groups, and producers and logistical time constraints. This study's design and sampling process highlights the unpredictable nature of disease outbreaks and the corresponding difficulty in environmental sampling of such events. The lessons learned, including field protocols and approaches, can be used to improve future research on AIV in the environment.Graphical abstractHighlightsHistoric 2015 avian influenza outbreak resulted in over 50 million birds destroyed.Study to determine environmental extent of virus transport logistically challenging.Challenges included communication, relationship building, and safety protocols.Temperature, precipitation may have favored virus survival, transport to subsurface.

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