Seasonal risk of low pathogenic avian influenza virus introductions into free-range layer farms in the Netherlands

Gonzales, Jose L.; Pritz-Verschuren, Sylvia; Bouwstra, Ruth; Wiegel, Jeanine; Elbers, Armin R.W.; Beerens, Nancy


Poultry can become infected with avian influenza viruses (AIV) via (in) direct contact with infected wild birds. Free-range chicken farms in the Netherlands were shown to have a higher risk for introduction of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) virus than indoor chicken farms. Therefore, during outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), free-range layers are confined indoors as a risk mitigation measure. In this study, we characterized the seasonal patterns of AIV introductions into free-range layer farms, to determine the high-risk period. Data from the LPAI serological surveillance programme for the period 2013–2016 were used to first estimate the time of virus introduction into affected farms and then assess seasonal patterns in the risk of introduction. Time of introduction was estimated by fitting a mathematical model to seroprevalence data collected longitudinally from infected farms. For the period 2015–2016, longitudinal follow-up included monthly collections of eggs for serological testing from a cohort of 261 farms. Information on the time of introduction was then used to estimate the monthly incidence and seasonality by fitting harmonic and Poisson regression models. A significant yearly seasonal risk of introduction that lasted around 4 months (November to February) was identified with the highest risk observed in January. The risk for introduction of LPAI viruses in this period was on average four times significantly higher than the period of low risk around the summer months. Although the data for HPAI infections were limited in the period 2014–2018, a similar risk period for introduction of HPAI viruses was observed. The results of this study can be used to optimize risk-based surveillance and inform decisions on timing and duration of indoor confinement when HPAI viruses are known to circulate in the wild bird population.