In the present study, avian hepatitis E virus (HEV) and serotype-1 strains of Marek's disease virus (MDV-1) were detected from a flock of 27-wk-old brown layer hens in China, accompanied by an average daily mortality of 0.44%. Postmortem examination of 25 sick hens and five apparently healthy hens selected randomly from the flock showed significant pathologic changes consistent with hepatitis-splenomegaly syndrome (HSS), including hepatomegaly, peritoneal fluid, and hepatic subcapsular hemorrhages. Microscopic examination of these livers showed multifocal necrotizing hepatitis and mild lymphocytic infiltration. These liver samples were investigated for HEV by reverse-transcription PCR. The overall detection rate of HEV RNA in samples of sick chickens was about 56% (14/25), while in samples from apparently healthy hens, it was 80% (4/5). Sequencing analysis of three 242-base-pair fragments of the helicase gene revealed 95.5% to 97.9% nucleotide identity compared with published avian HEV genotype 3, whereas identities demonstrated only 77.3% to 86.0% similarity when compared with genotypes 1, 2, and 4. Unexpectedly, the MDV meq gene was detected in livers from both apparently healthy chickens (2/5) and sick chickens (12/25) by PCR analysis. The meq gene (396 base pairs) was determined to belong to MDV-1 by further sequencing. The co-infection rate of avian HEV and MDV in this flock was 30% (9/30). This is the first report of dual infection of a nonenvelope RNA virus (HEV) with a herpesvirus (MDV) in chickens in China.
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Vol. 60 • No. 3