The Asian H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus causes a systemic disease with high mortality of poultry and is potentially zoonotic. In both chickens and ducks, the virus has been demonstrated to replicate in both cardiac and skeletal muscle cells. Experimentally, H5N1 HPAI virus has been transmitted to chickens through the consumption of raw infected meat. In this study, we investigated virus replication in cardiac and skeletal muscle and in the trachea of chickens after experimental intranasal inoculation with the H5N1 HPAI virus. The virus was detected in tissues by real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RRT-PCR) and virus isolation, and in the trachea by RRT-PCR and a commercial avian influenza (AI) viral antigen detection test. A modified RNA extraction protocol was developed for rapid detection of the virus in tissues by RRT-PCR. The H5N1 HPAI virus was sporadically detected in meat and the tracheas of infected birds without any clinical sign of disease as early as 6 hr postinfection (PI), and was detected in all samples tested at 24 hr PI and later. No differences in sensitivity were seen between virus isolation and RRT-PCR in meat samples. The AI viral antigen detection test on tracheal swabs was a useful method for identifying infected chickens when they were sick or dead, but was less sensitive in detecting infected birds when they were preclinical. This study provides data indicating that preslaughter tracheal swab testing can identify birds infected with HPAI among the daily mortality and prevent infected flocks from being sent to processing plants. In addition, the modified RNA extraction and RRT-PCR test on meat samples provide a rapid and sensitive method of identifying HPAI virus in illegal contraband or domestic meat samples.
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Vol. 52 • No. 1