In April 2013, an H9N2 low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) virus was isolated in a turkey breeder farm in Eastern England comprising 4966 birds. Point-of-lay turkey breeding birds had been moved from a rearing site and within 5 days had shown rapid onset of clinical signs of dullness, coughing, and anorexia. Three houses were involved, two contained a total of 4727 turkey hens, and the third housed 239 male turkeys. Around 50% of the hens were affected, whereas the male turkeys demonstrated milder clinical signs. Bird morbidity rose from 10% to 90%, with an increase in mortality in both houses of turkey hens to 17 dead birds in one house and 27 birds in the second house by day 6. The birds were treated with an antibiotic but were not responsive. Postmortem investigation revealed air sacculitis but no infraorbital sinus swellings or sinusitis. Standard samples were collected, and influenza A was detected. H9 virus infection was confirmed in all three houses by detection and subtyping of hemagglutinating agents in embryonated specific-pathogen-free fowls’ eggs, which were shown to be viruses of H9N2 subtype using neuraminidase inhibition tests and a suite of real-time reverse transcription PCR assays. LPAI virus pathotype was suggested by cleavage site sequencing, and an intravenous pathogenicity index of 0.00 confirmed that the virus was of low pathogenicity. Therefore, no official disease control measures were required, and despite the high morbidity, birds recovered and were kept in production. Neuraminidase sequence analysis revealed a deletion of 78 nucleotides in the stalk region, suggesting an adaptation of the virus to poultry. Hemagglutinin gene sequences of two of the isolates clustered with a group of H9 viruses containing other contemporary European H9 strains in the Y439/Korean-like group. The closest matches to the two isolates were A/turkey/Netherlands/11015452/11 (H9N2; 97.9–98% nucleotide identity) and A/mallard/Finland/Li13384/10 (H9N2; 97% nucleotide identity). Both PB2 partial sequences were a 100% nucleotide identity with A/mallard/France/090360/09, indicating a European origin of the causative virus. Furthermore, partial sequencing analysis of the remaining genes revealed the virus to be genotypically of European avian origin and therefore of lower risk to public health compared with contemporary viruses in Central and Eastern Asia. Occupational health risks were assessed, and preventative measures were taken.
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Vol. 60 • No. 1s