In general, avian influenza (AI) vaccines protect chickens from morbidity and mortality and reduce, but do not completely prevent, replication of wild AI viruses in the respiratory and intestinal tracts of vaccinated chickens. Therefore, surveillance programs based on serological testing must be developed to differentiate vaccinated flocks infected with wild strains of AI virus from noninfected vaccinated flocks in order to evaluate the success of vaccination in a control program and allow continuation of national and international commerce of poultry and poultry products. In this study, chickens were immunized with a commercial recombinant fowlpox virus vaccine containing an H5 hemagglutinin gene from A/turkey/Ireland/83 (H5N8) avian influenza (AI) virus (rFP-H5) and evaluated for correlation of immunological response by hemagglutination inhibition (HI) or agar gel immunodiffusion (AGID) tests and determination of protection following challenge with a high pathogenicity AI (HPAI) virus. In two different trials, chickens immunized with the rFP-H5 vaccine did not develop AGID antibodies because the vaccine lacks AI nucleoprotein and matrix genes, but 0%–100% had HI antibodies, depending on the AI virus strain used in the HI test, the HI antigen inactivation procedure, and whether the birds had been preimmunized against fowlpox virus. The most consistent and highest HI titers were observed when using A/turkey/Ireland/83 (H5N8) HPAI virus strain as the β-propiolactone (BPL)–inactivated HI test antigen, which matched the hemagglutinin gene insert in the rFP-H5 vaccine. In addition, higher HI titers were observed if ether or a combination of ether and BPL-inactivated virus was used in place of the BPL-inactivated virus. The rFP-H5 vaccinated chickens survived HPAI challenge and antibodies were detected by both AGID and HI tests. In conclusion, we demonstrated that the rFP-H5 vaccine allowed easy serological differentiation of infected from noninfected birds in vaccinated populations of chickens when using standard AGID and HI tests.
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Vol. 51 • No. 3