Accurate and rapid characterization of influenza A virus (IAV) hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) sequences with respect to subtype and clade is at the basis of extended diagnostic services and implicit to molecular epidemiologic studies. ClassyFlu is a new tool and web service for the classification of IAV sequences of the HA and NA gene into subtypes and phylogenetic clades using discriminatively trained profile hidden Markov models (HMMs), one for each subtype or clade. ClassyFlu merely requires as input unaligned, full-length or partial HA or NA DNA sequences. It enables rapid and highly accurate assignment of HA sequences to subtypes H1–H17 but particularly focusses on the finer grained assignment of sequences of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of subtype H5N1 according to the cladistics proposed by the H5N1 Evolution Working Group. NA sequences are classified into subtypes N1–N10. ClassyFlu was compared to semiautomatic classification approaches using BLAST and phylogenetics and additionally for H5 sequences to the new “Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Clade Classification Tool” (IRD-CT) proposed by the Influenza Research Database. Our results show that both web tools (ClassyFlu and IRD-CT), although based on different methods, are nearly equivalent in performance and both are more accurate and faster than semiautomatic classification. A retraining of ClassyFlu to altered cladistics as well as an extension of ClassyFlu to other IAV genome segments or fragments thereof is undemanding. This is exemplified by unambiguous assignment to a distinct cluster within subtype H7 of sequences of H7N9 viruses which emerged in China early in 2013 and caused more than 130 human infections. http://bioinf.uni-greifswald.de/ClassyFlu is a free web service. For local execution, the ClassyFlu source code in PERL is freely available.
Serological investigations of swine influenza virus infections and epidemiological conclusions thereof are challenging due to the complex and regionally variable pattern of co-circulating viral subtypes and lineages and varying vaccination regimes. Detection of subtype-specific antibodies currently depends on hemagglutination inhibition (HI) assays which are difficult to standardize and unsuitable for large scale investigations.
The nucleocapsid protein (NP) and HA1 fragments of the hemagglutinin protein (HA) of five different lineages (H1N1av, H1N1pdm, H1pdmN2, H1N2, H3N2) of swine influenza viruses were bacterially expressed and used as diagnostic antigens in indirect ELISA.
Proteins were co-translationally mono-biotinylated and refolded in vitro into an antigenically authentic conformation. Western blotting and indirect ELISA revealed highly subtype-specific antigenic characteristics of the recombinant HA1 proteins although some cross reactivity especially among antigens of the H1 subtype were evident. Discrimination of antibodies directed against four swine influenza virus subtypes co-circulating in Germany was feasible using the indirect ELISA format.
Bacterially expressed recombinant NP and HA1 swine influenza virus proteins served as antigens in indirect ELISAs and provided an alternative to commercial blocking NP ELISA and HI assays concerning generic (NP-specific) and HA subtype-specific sero-diagnostics, respectively, on a herd basis.
Pandemic influenza; Swine; Mixing vessel; Subtype specificity; Sero-diagnostics
Systematic pathological investigations to assess the health status of seabirds and coastal birds in Germany were performed. The investigation was conducted to obtain data on possible causes of decline in seabird and coastal bird populations.
48 individuals of 11 different species of seabirds and coastal birds were collected by the stranding network along the entire German North Sea coast from 1997 to 2008, including mainly waders such as Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) and red knots (Calidris canutus) as well as seabirds such as northern fulmars (Fulmaris glacialis) and common scoters (Melanitta nigra).
For most birds (n = 31) found dead along the shore no obvious cause of death was evident, while 17 individuals were killed by collisions with lighthouses.
Overall, the nutritional status of the investigated birds was very poor, and the body mass in most cases was significantly lower compared to masses of living birds caught during the same periods of the year. This is partly linked to chronic parasitic or bacterial infections in different organs or to septicaemia. In some cases infections with zoonotic tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium spp. were found. Avian influenza was not found in any of the collected birds.
The presented data contribute to the evaluation of the health status of birds in the German North Sea. Moreover, they present an important tool for the assessment of potential pathogens with an impact on the health status of seabirds and coastal birds.
Seabirds; Coastal birds; Pathology; North Sea; German waters
There is a continuing threat of human infections with avian influenza viruses (AIV). In this regard falconers might be a potential risk group because they have close contact to their hunting birds (raptors such as falcons and hawks) as well as their avian prey such as gulls and ducks. Both (hunting birds and prey birds) seem to be highly susceptible to some AIV strains, especially H5N1. We therefore conducted a field study to investigate AIV infections in falconers, their falconry birds as well as prey birds.
During 2 hunting seasons (2006/2007 and 2007/2008) falconers took tracheal and cloacal swabs from 1080 prey birds that were captured by their falconry birds (n = 54) in Germany. AIV-RNA of subtypes H6, H9, or H13 was detected in swabs of 4.1% of gulls (n = 74) and 3.8% of ducks (n = 53) using RT-PCR. The remaining 953 sampled prey birds and all falconry birds were negative. Blood samples of the falconry birds tested negative for AIV specific antibodies. Serum samples from all 43 falconers reacted positive in influenza A virus-specific ELISA, but remained negative using microneutralisation test against subtypes H5 and H7 and haemagglutination inhibition test against subtypes H6, H9 and H13.
Although we were able to detect AIV-RNA in samples from prey birds, the corresponding falconry birds and falconers did not become infected. Currently falconers do not seem to carry a high risk for getting infected with AIV through handling their falconry birds and their prey.
The endemic status of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) of subtype H5N1 in Egypt continues to devastate the local poultry industry and poses a permanent threat for human health. Several genetically and antigenically distinct H5N1 lineages co-circulate in Egypt: Strains of clade 2.2.1 proper replicate mainly in backyard birds causing the bulk of human infections, while a variant lineage within 2.2.1 (2.2.1v) appears to be perpetuated mainly in commercial poultry farms in Egypt. Viruses of the 2.2.1v lineage represent drift variants escaping from conventional vaccine-induced immunity and some of these strains also escaped detection by commercial real time reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-qPCR) protocols due to mismatches in the primers/probe binding sites.
We developed therefore a versatile, sensitive and lineage-specific multiplex RT-qPCR for detection and typing of H5N1 viruses in Egypt. Analytical characterization was carried out using 50 Egyptian HPAIV H5N1 strains isolated since 2006 and 45 other avian influenza viruses (AIV). A detection limit of 400 cRNA copies per ml sample matrix was found. Higher diagnostic sensitivity of the multiplex assay in comparison to other generic H5 or M-gene based RT-qPCR assays were found by examination of 63 swab samples from experimentally infected chickens and 50 AIV-positive swab samples from different host species in the field in Egypt.
The new multiplex RT-qPCR assay could be useful for rapid high-throughput monitoring for the presence of HPAIV H5N1 in commercial poultry in Egypt. It may also aid in prospective epidemiological studies to further delineate and better control spread of HPAIV H5N1 in Egypt.
To determine susceptibility of chickens, turkeys, and mice to pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus, we conducted contact exposure and inoculation experiments. We demonstrated that chickens were refractory to infection. However, oculo-oronasally inoculated turkeys and intranasally inoculated mice seroconverted without clinical signs of infection.
Swine influenza; pandemic (H1N1) 2009; pathogenicity; transmission; chickens; turkeys; mice; influenza; viruses; dispatch
Rapid neuraminidase subtyping of avian influenza viruses from diagnostic samples is crucial considering the existence of permanently emerging and evolving strains. Here we report an easy-to-use, low-cost microarray for neuraminidase subtyping following fragment amplification by a generic, neuraminidase-specific reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR). This method enables highly specific characterization with a sensitivity equal to that of matrix gene-specific real-time RT-PCR.
Virological, molecular and serological studies were carried out to determine the status of infections with avian influenza viruses (AIV) in different species of wild waterbirds in Iran during 2003-2007. Samples were collected from 1146 birds representing 45 different species with the majority of samples originating from ducks, coots and shorebirds. Samples originated from 6 different provinces representative for the 15 most important wintering sites of migratory waterbirds in Iran.
Overall, AIV were detected in approximately 3.4% of the samples. However, prevalence was higher (up to 8.3%) at selected locations and for certain species. No highly pathogenic avian influenza, including H5N1 was detected. A total of 35 AIVs were detected from cloacal or oropharyngeal swab samples. These positive samples originated mainly from Mallards and Common Teals.
Of 711 serum samples tested for AIV antibodies, 345 (48.5%) were positive by using a nucleoprotein-specific competitive ELISA (NP-C-ELISA). Ducks including Mallard, Common Teal, Common Pochard, Northern Shoveler and Eurasian Wigeon revealed the highest antibody prevalence ranging from 44 to 75%.
Results of these investigations provide important information about the prevalence of LPAIV in wild birds in Iran, especially wetlands around the Caspian Sea which represent an important wintering site for migratory water birds. Mallard and Common Teal exhibited the highest number of positives in virological and serological investigations: 43% and 26% virological positive cases and 24% and 46% serological positive reactions, respectively. These two species may play an important role in the ecology and perpetuation of influenza viruses in this region. In addition, it could be shown that both oropharyngeal and cloacal swab samples contribute to the detection of positive birds, and neither should be neglected.
To determine the effectiveness of ducks as sentinels for avian influenza virus (AIV) infection, we placed mallards in contact with wild birds at resting sites in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Infections of sentinel birds with different AIV subtypes confirmed the value of such surveillance for AIV monitoring.
sentinel; avian influenza; active surveillance; wild birds; influenza; viruses; dispatch
The potential role of wild birds as carriers of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) subtype H5N1 is still a matter of debate. Consecutive or simultaneous infections with different subtypes of influenza viruses of low pathogenicity (LPAIV) are very common in wild duck populations. To better understand the epidemiology and pathogenesis of HPAIV H5N1 infections in natural ecosystems, we investigated the influence of prior infection of mallards with homo- (H5N2) and heterosubtypic (H4N6) LPAIV on exposure to HPAIV H5N1. In mallards with homosubtypic immunity induced by LPAIV infection, clinical disease was absent and shedding of HPAIV from respiratory and intestinal tracts was grossly reduced compared to the heterosubtypic and control groups (mean GEC/100 µl at 3 dpi: 3.0×102 vs. 2.3×104 vs. 8.7×104; p<0.05). Heterosubtypic immunity induced by an H4N6 infection mediated a similar but less pronounced effect. We conclude that the epidemiology of HPAIV H5N1 in mallards and probably other aquatic wild bird species is massively influenced by interfering immunity induced by prior homo- and heterosubtypic LPAIV infections.
Highly pathogenic influenza virus (HPAIV) H5N1 proved to be remarkably mobile in migratory bird populations where it has led to extensive outbreaks for which the true number of affected birds usually cannot be determined. For the evaluation of avian influenza monitoring and HPAIV early warning systems, we propose a time-series analysis that includes the estimation of confidence intervals for (i) the prevalence in outbreak situations or (ii) in the apparent absence of disease in time intervals for specified regional units. For the German outbreak regions in 2006 and 2007, the upper 95% confidence limit allowed the detection of prevalences below 1% only for certain time intervals. Although more than 25,000 birds were sampled in Germany per year, the upper 95% confidence limit did not fall below 5% in the outbreak regions for most of the time. The proposed analysis can be used to monitor water bodies and high risk areas, also as part of an early-warning system. Chances for an improved targeting of the monitoring system as part of a risk-based approach are discussed with the perspective of reducing sample sizes.
Continuing threats of devastating outbreaks in poultry and of human infections caused by highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) H5N1 emphasize the need for the further development of rapid and reliable methods of virus detection and characterization. Here we report on the design and comprehensive validation of a low-density microarray as a diagnostic tool for the detection and typing of avian influenza virus (AIV). The array consists of one probe for the conserved matrix gene and 97 probes targeting the HA0 cleavage-site region. Following fragment amplification by a generic PCR approach, the array enables AIV detection, hemagglutinin (HA) subtyping, and pathotyping within a single assay. For validation, a panel of 92 influenza A viruses which included 43 reference strains representing all 16 HA subtypes was used. All reference strains were correctly typed with respect to their HA subtypes and pathotypes, including HPAIV H5N1/Asia, which caused outbreaks in Germany in 2006 and 2007. In addition, differentiation of strains of the Eurasian and North American lineages of the H5 and H7 subtypes was possible. The sensitivity of the microarray for the matrix gene is comparable to that of real-time reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR). It is, however, 10- to 100-fold lower than that of real-time RT-PCR with respect to HA subtyping and pathotyping. The specificity of the array was excellent, as no pathogens relevant for differential diagnosis yielded a positive reaction. Validation with field samples included 19 cloacal swab specimens from wild and domestic birds. Influenza A virus was verified in all samples, whereas the HA subtypes could be determined for 14 samples. The results demonstrate that the microarray assay described complements current methods and can accelerate the diagnosis and characterization of AIV.
Article summary line: Phylogenetic and epidemiologic evidence shows incursion of HPAIV into the food chain.
We conducted phylogenetic and epidemiologic analyses to determine sources of outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV), subtype H5N1, in poultry holdings in 2007 in Germany, and a suspected incursion of HPAIV into the food chain through contaminated deep-frozen duck carcasses. In summer 2007, HPAIV (H5N1) outbreaks in 3 poultry holdings in Germany were temporally, spatially, and phylogenetically linked to outbreaks in wild aquatic birds. Detection of HPAIV (H5N1) in frozen duck carcass samples of retained slaughter batches of 1 farm indicated that silent infection had occurred for some time before the incidental detection. Phylogenetic analysis established a direct epidemiologic link between HPAIV isolated from duck meat and strains isolated from 3 further outbreaks in December 2007 in backyard chickens that had access to uncooked offal from commercial deep-frozen duck carcasses. Measures that will prevent such undetected introduction of HPAIV (H5N1) into the food chain are urgently required.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza; food safety; H5N1; epidemiology; phylogeny; research
Sequence analysis of the endoproteolytic cleavage site within the hemagglutinin (HA) precursor protein HA0 is fundamental for studies of the molecular biology of influenza A viruses, in particular, for molecular pathotyping of subtype H5 and H7 isolates. A current problem for routine diagnostics is the emergence of new strains of the H5 or H7 subtype or even other subtypes which escape detection by commonly used reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) protocols. Here, the first pan-HA (PanHA) RT-PCR assay targeting the HA0 cleavage site of influenza A viruses of all 16 HA subtypes is reported. The assay was assessed in comparison to H5 and H7 subtype-specific RT-PCRs for the HA0 cleavage site and a real-time RT-PCR detecting the M gene. A panel of 92 influenza A viruses was used for validation. Sequence data for influenza A viruses from 32 allantoic fluid samples and 11 diagnostic swab samples of all 16 HA subtypes were generated by direct sequencing of the PanHA RT-PCR products. The results demonstrate that the new PanHA RT-PCR assay—followed by cycle sequencing—can complement existing methods and strengthen the reliability of influenza A virus diagnostics, allowing both molecular pathotyping (H5 and H7) and subtyping (non-H5 or -H7) within a single approach.
Adult, healthy mute swans were experimentally infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus A/Cygnus cygnus/Germany/R65/2006 subtype H5N1. Immunologically naive birds died, whereas animals with preexisting, naturally acquired avian influenza virus–specific antibodies became infected asymptomatically and shed virus. Adult mute swans are highly susceptible, excrete virus, and can be clinically protected by preexposure immunity.
Mute swan; avian influenza; subtype H5N1; epidemiology; pathogenicity; preexposure immunity; dispatch
Four calves were experimentally inoculated with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus A/cat/Germany/R606/2006 (H5N1) isolated from a cat in 2006. All calves remained healthy, but several animals shed low amounts of virus, detected by inoculation of nasal swab fluid into embryonated chicken eggs and onto MDCK cells. All calves seroconverted.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza; H5N1; cattle; mammals; dispatch
Experiments that exposed influenza virus (H5N1)–infected cats to susceptible dogs did not result in intraspecies or interspecies transmission. Infected dogs showed increased body temperatures, viral RNA in pharyngeal swabs, and seroconversion but not fatal disease.
highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) virus; dog; cat; canine; feline; susceptibility; dispatch
Virus shedding by vaccinated birds was markedly reduced.
Because fatal infections with highly pathogenic avian influenza A (HPAI) virus subtype H5N1 have been reported in birds of prey, we sought to determine detailed information about the birds’ susceptibility and protection after vaccination. Ten falcons vaccinated with an inactivated influenza virus (H5N2) vaccine seroconverted. We then challenged 5 vaccinated and 5 nonvaccinated falcons with HPAI (H5N1). All vaccinated birds survived; all unvaccinated birds died within 5 days. For the nonvaccinated birds, histopathologic examination showed tissue degeneration and necrosis, immunohistochemical techniques showed influenza virus antigen in affected tissues, and these birds shed high levels of infectious virus from the oropharynx and cloaca. Vaccinated birds showed no influenza virus antigen in tissues and shed virus at lower titers from the oropharynx only. Vaccination could protect these valuable birds and, through reduced virus shedding, reduce risk for transmission to other avian species and humans.
Keywords: Birds of prey; falcon hybrids; highly pathogenic avian influenza; challenge; antibody titer; histopathology; H5N1; zoonosis; human risk; fowl plague; virus shedding; research
Rapid typing of the pathogenicity of avian influenza A viruses (AIV) of subtypes H5 and H7 is crucial to initiate adequate protective measures preventing the spread of highly pathogenic AIV (HPAIV). Here, a new real-time reverse transcription-PCR assay which enables sensitive and specific detection and cleavage site analysis of HPAIV H5N1 of the Qinghai lineage is described.
Approximately 21,700 seals died during a morbillivirus epidemic in northwestern Europe in 2002. Phocine distemper virus 1 was isolated from seals in German waters. The sequence of the P gene showed 97% identity with the Dutch virus isolated in 1988. There was 100% identity with the Dutch isolate from 2002 and a single nucleotide mismatch with the Danish isolate.
harbor seal; phocine distemper virus; germany; RT-PCR; immunohistochemistry; serology
Detection of parvovirus B19 DNA offers diagnostic advantages over serology, particularly in persistent infections of immunocompromised patients. A rapid, novel method of B19 DNA detection and quantification is introduced. This method, a quantitative PCR assay, is based on real-time glass capillary thermocycling (LightCycler [LC]) and fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET). The PCR assay allowed quantification over a dynamic range of over 7 logs and could quantify as little as 250 B19 genome equivalents (geq) per ml as calculated for plasmid DNA (i.e., theoretically ≥5 geq per assay). Interrater agreement analysis demonstrated equivalence of LC-FRET PCR and conventional nested PCR in the diagnosis of an active B19 infection (kappa coefficient = 0.83). The benefit of the new method was demonstrated in an immunocompromised child with a relapsing infection, who required an attenuation of the immunosuppressive therapy in addition to repeated doses of immunoglobulin to eliminate the virus.
Canine distemper morbillivirus (CDV) infection causes a frequently fatal systemic disease in a broad range of carnivore species, including domestic dogs. In CDV infection, classical serology provides data of diagnostic and prognostic values (kinetics of seroconversion) and is also used to predict the optimal vaccination age of pups. Routine CDV serology is still based on time- and cost-intensive virus neutralization assays (V-NA). Here, we describe a new capture-sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) that uses recombinant baculovirus-expressed nucleocapsid (N) protein of a recent CDV wild-type isolate (2544/Han95) for the detection of CDV-specific antibodies in canine sera. Recombinant antigen was produced with high efficacy in Heliothis virescens larvae. The capture-sandwich ELISA enabled a clear-cut qualitative evaluation of the CDV-specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgM serostatuses of 196 and 35 dog sera, respectively. Inter-rater agreement analysis (κ = 0.988) indicated that the ELISA can be used unrestrictedly as a substitute for the V-NA for the qualitative determination of CDV-specific IgG serostatus. In an attempt to semiquantify N-specific antibodies, a one-step-dilution (alpha method) IgG-specific ELISA was implemented. Alpha values of ≥50% showed very good inter-rater agreement (κ = 0.968) with V-NA titers of ≥1/100 50% neutralizing dose (ND50) as measured against the central European CDV wild-type isolate 2544/Han95 in canine sera originating from northern Germany. An ND50 titer of 1/100 is considered a threshold, and titers of ≥1/100 indicate a resilient, protective immunity. CDV N-specific antibodies of the IgM class were detected by the newly developed ELISA in 9 of 15 sera obtained from dogs with symptoms of acute distemper. In leucocytes of 5 of the 15 dogs (all of which were also IgM positive) CDV RNA was detected by reverse transcription (RT)-PCR. The recombinant capture-sandwich ELISA detecting N-specific antibodies of the IgG class provided superior sensitivity and specificity and thus represents a rapid and cost-effective alternative to classical CDV V-NA. By detection of specific IgM antibodies, the ELISA will be complementary to RT-PCR and V-NA in the diagnosis of acute distemper infections.