In December 2010, infection with a H9N1 low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) virus was detected in a broiler breeder flock in East Anglia. Disease suspicion was based on acute drops in egg production in two of four sheds on the premises, poor egg shell quality and evidence of diarrhoea. H9N1 LPAI virus infection was confirmed by real-time reverse transcription PCR. Sequencing revealed high nucleotide identity of 93.6 per cent and 97.9 per cent with contemporary North American H9 and Eurasian N1 genes, respectively. Attempted virus isolation in embryonated specific pathogen free (SPF) fowls' eggs was unsuccessful. Epidemiological investigations were conducted to identify the source of infection and any onward spread. These concluded that infection was restricted to the affected premises, and no contacts or movements of poultry, people or fomites could be attributed as the source of infection. However, the infection followed a period of extremely cold weather and snow which impacted on the biosecurity protocols on site, and also led to increased wild bird activity locally, including waterfowl and game birds around the farm buildings. Analysis of the N1 gene sequence suggested direct introduction from wild birds. Although H9 infection in poultry is not notifiable, H9N2 LPAI viruses have been associated with production and mortality episodes in poultry in many parts of Asia and the Middle East. In the present H9N1 outbreak, clinical signs were relatively mild in the poultry with no mortality, transient impact on egg production and no indication of zoonotic spread. However, this first reported detection of H9 LPAI virus in chickens in England was also the first H9 UK poultry case for 40 years, and vindicates the need for continued vigilance and surveillance of avian influenza viruses in poultry populations.
- Accepted July 26, 2012.
- British Veterinary Association