Comparative infectivity and transmissibility studies of wild-bird and chicken-origin highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses H5N8 in chickens
Despite the recent advances in avian influenza viruses surveillance and genomic data, fundamental questions concerning the ecology and evolution of these viruses remain elusive. In Egypt, H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIVs) are co-circulating simultaneously with HPAIVs of subtypes H5N1 and low-pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIVs) of subtype H9N2 in both commercial and backyard poultry. In order to isolate AIVs from wild birds and to assess their potential in causing infection in commercial poultry, a total of thirty-four cloacal swab samples were collected from apparently healthy migratory wild birds (Anas acuta, Anas crecca, Rallus aquaticus, and Bubulcus ibis) from four Egyptian Governorates (Giza, Menoufia, Gharbia, and Dakahlia). Based on matrix (M) gene-targeting real-time reverse transcriptase PCR and subsequent genetic characterization, our results revealed two positive isolates (2/34) for H5N8 whereas no H5N1 and H9N2 subtypes were detected. Genetic characterization of the full-length haemagglutinin (HA) genes revealed the clustering of two reported isolates within genotype 5 of clade 22.214.171.124b. The potential of a wild bird-origin H5N8 virus isolated from a cattle egret for its transmission capability within and between chickens was investigated in compare to chicken origin H5N8 AIV. Chickens inoculated with cattle egret isolate showed varying clinical signs and detection of virus shedding. In contrast, the contact chickens showed less levels of virus secretion indicating efficient virus inter/intra-species transmission. These results demonstrated the possibility for spreading of wild bird origin H5N8 viruses between chicken. In conclusion, our study highlights the need for continuous and frequent monitoring of the genetic diversity of H5N8 AIVs in wild birds as well as commercial poultry sectors for better understanding and determining the genetic nature of these viruses, which is fundamental to predict any future threat through virus reassortment with the potential to threaten human and animal health. Likewise, an assessment of coverage and efficacy of different vaccines and or vaccination regimes in the field conditions should be reconsidered along with strict biosecurity measures.