An avian influenza (AI ) outbreak occurred in meat-type chickens in central Pennsylvania from December 2001 to January 2002. Two broiler breeder flocks were initially infected almost simultaneously in early December. Avian influenza virus (AIV), H7N2 subtype, was isolated from the two premises in our laboratory. The H7N2 isolates were characterized as a low pathogenic strain at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories based on molecular sequencing of the virus hemagglutinin cleavage site and virus challenge studies in specific-pathogen-free leghorn chickens. However, clinical observations and pathologic findings indicated that this H7N2 virus appeared to be significantly pathogenic in meat-type chickens under field conditions. Follow-up investigation indicated that this H7N2 virus spread rapidly within each flock. Within 7 days of the recognized start of the outbreak, over 90% seroconversion was observed in the birds by the hemagglutination inhibition test. A diagnosis of AI was made within 24 hr of bird submission during this outbreak using a combination of virus detection by a same-day dot–enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and virus isolation in embryonating chicken eggs. Follow-up investigation revealed that heavy virus shedding (90%–100% of birds shedding AIV) occurred between 4 and 7 days after disease onset, and a few birds (15%) continued to shed virus at 13 days post–disease onset, as detected by virus isolation on tracheal and cloacal swabs. AIV was not detected in or on eggs laid by the breeders during the testing phase of the outbreak. The two flocks were depopulated at 14 days after disease onset, and AIV was not detected on the two premises 23 days after depopulation.
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Vol. 48 • No. 1