More than 70 outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 have been reported in poultry in the western and north-eastern parts of India. Therefore, in view of the recent HPAI H5N1 outbreaks in poultry, active AI surveillance encompassing wild, resident, migratory birds and poultry was undertaken during 2009-2011 in the State of West Bengal.
A total of 5722 samples were collected from West Bengal; 3522 samples (2906 fecal droppings + 616 other environmental samples) were from migratory birds and 2200 samples [1604 tracheal, cloacal swabs, environmental samples, tissue samples + 596 blood (serum)] were from domestic ducks and poultry. All tracheal, cloacal and environmental samples were processed for virus isolation. Virus isolates were detected using hemagglutination assay and identified using hemagglutination inhibition (HI) and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assays. Sequencing and phylogenetic analysis of partial region of the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes was done. Intravenous pathogenicity index assays were performed in chickens to assess pathogenicity of AI virus isolates. Serum samples were tested for detection of antibodies against AI viruses using HI assay.
A total of 57 AI H9N2, 15 AI H4N6 and 15 Newcastle Disease (NDV) viruses were isolated from chickens, from both backyard and wet poultry markets; AI H4N6 viruses were isolated from backyard chickens and domestic ducks. Characterization of AI H9N2 and H4N6 viruses revealed that they were of low pathogenicity. Domestic ducks were positive for antibodies against H5 and H7 viruses while chickens were positive for presence of antibodies against AI H9N2 and NDV.
In the current scenario of HPAI H5N1 outbreaks in West Bengal, this report shows presence of low pathogenic AI H9N2 and H4N6 viruses in chickens and domestic ducks during the period 2009-2011. This is the first report of isolation of H4N6 from India. Antibodies against AI H5 and H7 in ducks highlight the probable role of domestic ducks in the transmission of AI viruses. Human infections of H9N2 have been reported from China and Hong Kong. This necessitates implementation of prevention and control measures to limit the spread of AI viruses.