Avian Influenza a H9N2 Viruses in Morocco, 2018-2019

Low pathogenic H9N2 avian influenza (LPAI H9N2) is considered one of the most important diseases found in poultry (broiler, laying hens, breeding chickens, and turkeys). This infection causes considerable economic losses. The objective of this work was to monitor and assess the presence of avian influenza virus (AIV) H9N2 in eight different regions of Morocco using real-time RT-PCR, and to assess the phylogenetic and molecular evolution of the H9N2 viruses between 2016 and 2019. Field samples were collected from 108 farms suspected of being infected with LPAI H9N2 virus. Samples were analyzed using H9N2-specific real-time RT-PCR. Highly positive samples were subjected to virus isolation and seven isolates were fully sequenced. Low pathogenic H9N2 avian influenza virus was introduced in Morocco in 2016. We show that in 2018-2019, the virus was still present irrespective of vaccination status. Phylogenetic and molecular analyses showed mutations related to virulence, although our viruses were related to 2016 Moroccan viruses and grouped in the G1 lineage. Specific amino acid substitutions were identified in Moroccan H9N2 viruses that are believed to lead to increased resistance to antiviral drugs.