In 1993, a new molecular typing method for infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) was introduced. This method uses reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis of the spike gene to obtain RFLP patterns that correlate with serotype. Using that test at the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center (PDRC, University of Georgia, Athens, GA), we have identified a total of 1523 IBV isolates in the past 11 yr. The data were obtained from clinical samples submitted to our laboratory from birds with clinical signs characteristic of IBV infection. The samples are primarily from the southeastern United States but are also from many other states as well as from outside the United States. Most of the isolations occurred during July, followed by May, April, November, October, and January. The fewest number of isolates identified on an annual basis was 20 in 2003. An unusually high number of isolations occurred in 1997 (318 isolations) and 1999 (246 isolations), which coincided with the GAV variant virus and GA98 variant virus outbreaks respectively. By far, the Ark-DPI strain was the most frequently identified type of IBV and ranged from 23% to 65% of total isolations per year. Ark-like isolates, defined as having a similar but unique RFLP pattern from the Ark-DPI vaccine strain were identified every year of the study except in 1996. In addition, new Ark-like isolates continued to emerge each year (except in the year 2000) beginning in 1997, reflecting the ability of that IBV type to undergo genetic drift. Eighty-two different variant viruses were identified although only two (GAV and GA98) became persistent and caused widespread disease. Some viruses tended to be geographically restricted to a given area (CAV in California and MX97-8147 in Mexico), whereas others were widespread (Ark-DPI, Conn, DE072, and Mass). The Florida, Gray, Holte, Iowa, and JMK types were not detected during the 11-yr period, and no foreign virus types were detected in the United States. These data show that IBV variant viruses are consistently circulating in commercial poultry and are capable of causing disease outbreaks. Our observations highlight the importance of constantly monitoring IBV as well as other coronaviruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus that have the ability to change and emerge to cause disease in a susceptible host.
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Vol. 49 • No. 4