We recently identified and characterized a novel virus, designated avian hepatitis E virus (avian HEV), from chickens with hepatitis-splenomegaly syndrome (HS syndrome) in the United States. Avian HEV is genetically related to but distinct from human and swine HEVs. To determine the extent of genetic variation and the seroprevalence of avian HEV infection in chicken flocks, we genetically identified and characterized 11 additional avian HEV isolates from chickens with HS syndrome and assessed the prevalence of avian HEV antibodies from a total of 1,276 chickens of different ages and breeds from 76 different flocks in five states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, and Wisconsin). An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay using a truncated recombinant avian HEV ORF2 antigen was developed and used to determine avian HEV seroprevalence. About 71% of chicken flocks and 30% of chickens tested in the study were positive for antibodies to avian HEV. About 17% of chickens younger than 18 weeks were seropositive, whereas about 36% of adult chickens were seropositive. By using a reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) assay, we tested 21 bile samples from chickens with HS syndrome in California, Connecticut, New York, and Wisconsin for the presence of avian HEV RNA. Of the 21 bile samples, 12 were positive for 30- to 35-nm HEV-like virus particles by electron microscopy (EM). A total of 11 of the 12 EM-positive bile samples and 6 of the 9 EM-negative bile samples were positive for avian HEV RNA by RT-PCR. The sequences of a 372-bp region within the helicase gene of 11 avian HEV isolates were determined. Sequence analyses revealed that the 11 field isolates of avian HEV had 78 to 100% nucleotide sequence identities to each other, 79 to 88% identities to the prototype avian HEV, 76 to 80% identities to chicken big liver and spleen disease virus, and 56 to 61% identities to other known strains of human and swine HEV. The data from this study indicated that, like swine and human HEVs, avian HEV isolates are genetically heterogenic and that avian HEV infection is enzoonotic in chicken flocks in the United States.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Microbiology (medical)