The evolution of very virulent (vv) infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) has led to significant economic losses in many poultry-producing areas. Despite vigorous vaccination strategies, IBDV has been difficult to control. The protective efficacy of IBDV vaccines is traditionally evaluated in specific pathogen-free (SPF) chickens. But under field conditions, residual maternal antibody (mAb) levels may interfere with vaccine efficacy. In this study, commercial broilers with various levels of maternally derived antibodies were vaccinated with IBDV vaccines of different virulence (vaccines 1–3, intermediate; vaccine 4, intermediate plus). At an average maternal virus-neutralizing antibody (mAb) level of log210.8 (range 7.6–11.6) at day of vaccination, only the intermediate plus vaccine induced IBDV antibodies after 18 days, while the other intermediate vaccines did not. At average mAb levels of log26.7 (range 5.6–8.6) at day of vaccination, all vaccines induced circulating antibodies, although the onset of antibody production differed significantly between strains (P < 0.05). While the intermediate plus vaccine induced enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay antibody levels already at 14 days postvaccination (PV), the intermediate vaccines induced significant antibody levels 28 (vaccines 1, 2) and 35 (vaccine 3) days PV. The time of IBDV antibody induction correlated with the onset of bursa lesions. The severity of lesions was comparable between vaccines 1, 3, and 4 (lesion score 4), while vaccine 2 induce only mild lesions of score 1 in 23% of the tested birds. Despite the induction of antibodies, none of the tested vaccines fully protected against challenge with vvIBDV. All challenged birds had either significantly higher bursal lesion scores or a higher IBDV antigen load in the bursa or sometimes both in comparison with nonchallenged birds (P < 0.05). Our study demonstrates that the evaluation of IBDV-vaccine efficacy is difficult in commercial broilers. For the first time, it was shown that the onset of bursa lesions and recovery of IBDV-vaccinated broilers is delayed in the presence of mAb in comparison with SPF chickens but not suppressed as previously assumed. At the time of challenge, vaccinated birds may still have significant bursa lesions and may lack target cells for IBDV-challenge virus. To be able to evaluate vaccine efficacy in commercial broilers, parameters such as intrabursal IBDV-antigen load should also be considered in conjunction with bursa lesion scores.
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Vol. 49 • No. 2