Prior infection with antigenically heterologous low pathogenic avian influenza viruses interferes with the lethality of the H5 highly pathogenic strain in domestic ducks

Low and highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIVs and HPAIVs, respectively) have been co-circulating in poultry populations in Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries. In our avian-flu surveillance in Vietnamese domestic ducks, viral genes of LPAIV and HPAIV have been frequently detected in the same individual. To assess the influence of LPAIV on the pathogenicity of H5 HPAIV in domestic ducks, an experimental co-infection study was performed. One-week-old domestic ducks were inoculated intranasally and orally with PBS (control) or 106 EID50 of LPAIVs (A/duck/Vietnam/LBM678/2014 (H6N6) or A/Muscovy duck/Vietnam/LBM694/2014 (H9N2)). Seven days later, these ducks were inoculated with HPAIV (A/Muscovy duck/Vietnam/LBM808/2015 (H5N6)) in the same manner. The respective survival rates were 100% and 50% in ducks pre-infected with LBM694 or LBM678 strains and both higher than the survival of the control group (25%). The virus titers in oral/cloacal swabs of each LPAIV pre-inoculation group were significantly lower at 3-5 days post-HPAIV inoculation. Notably, almost no virus was detected in swabs from surviving individuals of the LBM678 pre-inoculation group. Antigenic cross-reactivity among the viruses was not observed in the neutralization test. These results suggest that pre-infection with LPAIV attenuates the pathogenicity of HPAIV in domestic ducks, which might be explained by innate and/or cell-mediated immunity induced by the initial infection with LPAIV.