To evaluate the replication of a highly virulent avian influenza A virus in a potential reservoir host, mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) were inoculated with the virulent strain A/Ty/Ont/7732/66 (H5N9). Viruses recovered from the ducks were analyzed by hemagglutination inhibition (HI) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and found to possess antigenically altered viral hemagglutinins. Plaque formation on the Madin-Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cell line and on primary chicken embryo cells was investigated, and isolates recovered from the ducks differed from the wild type by being unable to form plaques on MDCK cells without trypsin. This phenotype did not appear to be due to inefficient cleavage of the hemagglutinin by host cell proteases since hemagglutinin immunoprecipitated from cell lysates was cleaved. Although the plaquing phenotype suggested attenuation of the isolates from the ducks, they were not significantly altered in their virulence for chickens shown by infectivity studies in vivo. These results indicate that replication of influenza A/Ty/Ont/7732/66 virus in ducks can produce antigenic and phenotypic variants which are still highly virulent for domestic poultry.
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Vol. 25 • No. 4