Molecular, antigenic, and pathogenic characterization of H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses isolated in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017.


Laboratory of Microbiology, Department of Disease Control, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Hokkaido University, North 18, West 9, Kita-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, 060-0818, Japan. [Email]


In May 2017, high mortality of chickens and Muscovy ducks due to the H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) was reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). In this study, we assessed the molecular, antigenic, and pathogenic features in poultry of the H5N8 HPAIV from the 2017 Congolese outbreaks. Phylogenetic analysis of the eight viral gene segments revealed that all 12 DR Congo isolates clustered in clade together with other H5N8 HPAIVs isolated in Africa and Eurasia, suggesting a possible common origin of these viruses. Antigenically, a slight difference was observed between the Congolese isolates and a representative virus from group C in the same clade. After intranasal inoculation with a representative DR Congo virus, high pathogenicity was observed in chickens and Muscovy ducks but not in Pekin ducks. Viral replication was higher in chickens than in Muscovy duck and Pekin duck organs; however, neurotropism was pronounced in Muscovy ducks. Our data confirmed the high pathogenicity of the DR Congo virus in chickens and Muscovy ducks, as observed in the field. National awareness and strengthening surveillance in the region are needed to better control HPAIVs.

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