To determine the coverage of infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) vaccine field boost in commercial broilers, estimate the relative amount of vaccine virus in the trachea, and follow the clearance of the vaccine, we collected approximately 100 tracheal swabs at various times postvaccination from 10 different flocks and used real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR (RT-PCR) to detect the virus. This allowed us to detect vaccine virus in as few as 3% of the birds in a flock of 20,000 birds with a 95% confidence level. We found that the number of birds positive for IBV vaccine following vaccination in the field resembled a parabolic-shaped curve that peaked around 14 days postvaccination, or it resembled a sinusoidal-type wave with a frequency of about 2 wk. The patterns did not appear to correlate with water or spray vaccination methods, nor did they correlate with the type of backpack sprayer used. The highest number of positive birds in a flock ranged from 66% to 100%. The viral genome copies in the tracheal swabs, as determined by real-time RT-PCR, ranged from 1 × 102.6/ml to 1 × 105.2/ml and, in most studies, had a positive correlation with the number of birds positive for vaccine virus in the flock. On the last sample day of each study, 21, 28, or 35 days postvaccination, from 12% to 66% of the birds were still positive for vaccine virus, and although different IBV vaccine types were used in each study, only Arkansas vaccine virus was identified in selected samples on those days. Arkansas vaccine virus was also the only virus identified in selected samples at 1, 3, and 5 days postvaccination, clearly indicating that Arkansas vaccine virus is persisting in the birds. Protection studies conducted on birds vaccinated with Arkansas- and Delaware-type vaccines and removed from the field at 21 days postvaccination showed complete protection against challenge with Delaware (except for one bird), whereas protection against Arkansas challenge was between 37.5% and 62.5%. Our findings show that introduction of IBV vaccines into a commercial broiler flock do not necessarily follow a seemingly logical pattern of a high number of birds infected followed by clearance from the trachea, but resembled either a parabolic curve or a sinusoidal-type wave. In addition, Arkansas vaccine viruses are clearly persisting in commercial broilers, which may be because of incomplete protection observed for that IBV type.
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Vol. 53 • No. 2