Surveillance on respiratory diseases reveals enzootic circulation of both H5 and H9 avian influenza viruses in small-scale commercial layer farms of Bangladesh

Poultry production in Bangladesh has been experiencing H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and H9N2 low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) for the last 14 years. Vaccination of chickens against H5 HPAI is in practice since the end of 2012. Subsequently, the official reporting of HPAI outbreaks gradually decreased. However, the true extent of circulation of avian influenza virus (AIV) in commercial poultry production is not clear. To explore this, we conducted active surveillance in 422 small-scale commercial layer farms in 20 villages of Mymensingh and Tangail districts of Bangladesh during 2017 and 2018 for the presence of diseases with respiratory signs. A total of 88 farms with respiratory disease problems were identified and investigated during the surveillance. In addition, 22 small-scale commercial layer farms in the neighbouring areas with respiratory disease problem were also investigated on request from the farmers. Pooled samples of oropharyngeal swabs from live birds or respiratory tissues from dead birds of the farm suffering from respiratory disease problem were tested for molecular detection of avian influenza virus (AIV), Newcastle disease virus (NDV), infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), infectious laryngotracheitis virus (ILTV), Mycoplasma gallisepticum and Avibacterium paragallinarum. A total of 110 farms (88 in the surveillance site and 22 in the neighbouring region) were investigated, and one or more respiratory pathogens were detected from 89 farms. AIV was detected in 57 farms often concurrently with other pathogens. Among these 57 farms, H5, H9, both H5 and H9 or non-H5 and non-H9 AIV were detected in 28, 9, 13 or 7 farms, respectively. Birds of most of the H5 AIV-positive farms did not present typical clinical signs or high mortality. Twenty such farms were observed longitudinally, which had only 1.05%-5.50% mortality but a marked drop in egg production. This widespread circulation of H5 AIV along with H9 AIV and other pathogens in small-scale commercial layer farms, often with low mortality, reaffirms the enzootic circulation of AIV in Bangladesh, which may escape syndromic surveillance focused on unusual mortality only. To reduce public health risks, strengthening of the control programme with comprehensive vaccination, enhanced biosecurity, improved surveillance and outbreak response is suggested.