Pathogenicity of H5N8 High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza Virus in Chickens and Ducks from South Korea in 2020-2021

During the 2020-2021 winter season, an outbreak of clade H5N8 high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) virus occurred in South Korea. Here, we evaluated the pathogenicity and transmissibility of A/mandarin duck/Korea/H242/2020 (H5N8) (H242/20(H5N8)) first isolated from this outbreak in specific pathogen-free (SPF) chickens and commercial ducks in comparison with those of A/duck/Korea/HD1/2017(H5N6) (HD1/17(H5N6)) from a previous HPAI outbreak in 2017-2018. In chickens, the 50% chicken lethal dose and mean death time of H242/20(H5N8) group were 104.5 EID50 and 4.3 days, respectively, which indicate less virulent than those of HD1/17(H5N6) (103.6 EID50 and 2.2 days). Whereas, chickens inoculated with H242/20(H5N8) survived longer and had a higher titer of viral shedding than those inoculated with HD1/17(H5N6), which may increase the risk of viral contamination on farms. All ducks infected with either HPAI virus survived without clinical symptoms. In addition, they exhibited a longer virus shedding period and a higher transmission rate, indicating that ducks may play an important role as a silent carrier of both HPAI viruses. These results suggest that the pathogenic characteristics of HPAI viruses in chickens and ducks need to be considered to effectively control HPAI outbreaks in the field.