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Infectious Diseases - Pathology - Public Health and Epidemiology

Transmission Dynamics of Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza Infections in Turkey Flocks
Published: Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Author: Arianna Comin et al.

by Arianna Comin, Don Klinkenberg, Stefano Marangon, Anna Toffan, Arjan Stegeman

Low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) viruses of H5 and H7 subtypes have the potential to mutate into highly pathogenic strains (HPAI), which can threaten human health and cause huge economic losses. The current knowledge on the mechanisms of mutation from LPAI to HPAI is insufficient for predicting which H5 or H7 strains will mutate into an HPAI strain, and since the molecular changes necessary for the change in virulence seemingly occur at random, the probability of mutation depends on the number of virus replicates, which is associated with the number of birds that acquire infection. We estimated the transmission dynamics of LPAI viruses in turkeys using serosurveillance data from past epidemics in Italy. We fitted the proportions of birds infected in 36 flocks into a hierarchical model to estimate the basic reproduction number (R0) and possible variations in R0 among flocks caused by differences among farms. We also estimated the distributions of the latent and infectious periods, using experimental infection data with outbreak strains. These were then combined with the R0 to simulate LPAI outbreaks and characterise the resulting dynamics. The estimated mean within-flock R0 in the population of infected flocks was 5.5, indicating that an infectious bird would infect an average of more than five susceptible birds. The results also indicate that the presence of seropositive birds does not necessarily mean that the virus has already been cleared and the flock is no longer infective, so that seropositive flocks may still constitute a risk of infection for other flocks. In light of these results, the enforcement of appropriate restrictions, the culling of seropositive flocks, or pre-emptive slaughtering may be useful. The model and parameter estimates presented in this paper provide the first complete picture of LPAI dynamics in turkey flocks and could be used for designing a suitable surveillance program.