Airborne transmission of a highly pathogenic avian influenza strain H5N1 between groups of chickens quantified in an experimental setting.

Spekreijse, D.; Bouma, A.; Koch, G.; Stegeman, J.A.


Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a devastating viral disease of poultry and quick control of outbreaks is vital. Airborne transmission has often been suggested as a route of transmission between flocks, but knowledge of the rate of transmission via this route is sparse. In the current study, we quantified the rate of airborne transmission of an HPAI H5N1 virus strain between chickens under experimental conditions. In addition, we quantified viral load in air and dust samples. Sixteen trials were done, comprising a total of 160 chickens housed in cages, with three treatment groups. The first group was inoculated with strain A/turkey/Turkey/1/2005 H5N1, the second and third group were not inoculated, but housed at 0.2 and 1.1m distance of the first group, respectively. Tracheal and cloacal swabs were collected daily of each chicken to monitor virus transmission. Air and dust samples were taken daily to quantify virus load in the immediate surroundings of the birds. Samples were tested by quantitative RRT-PCR and virus isolation. In 4 out of 16 trials virus was transmitted from the experimentally inoculated chickens to the non-inoculated chickens. The transmission rate was 0.13 and 0.10 new infections per infectious bird at 0.2m and 1.1m, respectively. The difference between these estimates was, however, not significant. Two air samples tested positive in virus isolation, but none of these samples originated from the trials with successful transmission. Five dust samples were confirmed positive in virus isolation. The results of this study demonstrate that the rate of airborne transmission between chickens over short distances is low, suggesting that airborne transmission over a long distance is an unlikely route of spread. Whether or not this also applies to the field situation needs to be examined