The first outbreak of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) occurred in two “backyard” flocks of Houbara bustards and falcons in February 2007. Subsequent outbreaks were seen through the end of 2007 in “backyard” birds including native chickens, ostriches, turkeys, ducks, and peacocks. From November 2007 through January 2008, H5N1 HPAI outbreaks occurred in 19 commercial poultry premises, including two broiler breeder farms, one layer breeder farm, one ostrich farm, and 15 commercial layer farms, with approximately 4.75 million birds affected. Laboratory diagnosis of all H5N1-positive cases was conducted at the Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (CVDL) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A combination of diagnostic tests was used to confirm the laboratory diagnosis. A rapid antigen-capture test and real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR (rtRT-PCR) assay on clinical and field specimens were conducted initially. Meanwhile, virus isolation in specific-pathogen-free embryonating chicken eggs was performed and was followed by hemagglutinin (HA) and hemagglutination inhibition tests, then rapid antigen-capture and rtRT-PCR tests on HA-positive allantoic fluid samples. In most HPAI cases, a complete laboratory diagnosis was made within 24–48 hr at the CVDL. Saudi Arabian government officials made immediate decisions to depopulate all H5N1-affected and nonaffected flocks within a 5-km radius area and applied quarantine zones to prevent the virus from spreading to other areas. Other control measures, such as closure of live bird markets and intensive surveillance tests on all poultry species within quarantine zones, were in place during the outbreaks. As a result, the HPAI outbreaks were quickly controlled, and no positive cases were detected after January 29, 2008. The KSA was declared free of HPAI on April 30, 2008, by the World Animal Health Organization.
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Vol. 54 • No. s1