Potential biological and climatic factors that influence the incidence and persistence of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus in Egypt
Highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus (A/H5N1) of clade 2.2.1 is endemic in poultry in Egypt where the highest number of human infections worldwide was reported. During the last twelve years the Egyptian A/H5N1 evolved into several genotypes. In 2007-2014 vaccinated poultry suffered from antigenic drift variants of clade 126.96.36.199 and in 2014/2015 an unprecedented upsurge of A/H5N1 clade 188.8.131.52 occurred in poultry and humans. Factors contributing to the endemicity or re-emergence of A/H5N1 in poultry in Egypt remain unclear. Here, three potential factors were studied: climatic factors (temperature, relative humidity and wind speed), biological fitness in vitro and pathogenicity in domestic Pekin and Muscovy ducks. Statistical analyses using negative binomial regression models indicated that ambient temperature in winter months influenced the spread of A/H5N1 in different geographic areas analysed in this study. In vitro, at 4°C and 56°C 184.108.40.206 and recent 220.127.116.11 viruses were more stable than other viruses used in this study. Further, Pekin ducks were more resistant than Muscovy ducks and the viruses were excreted for up to two weeks post-infection assuming a strong role as a reservoir. Taken together, ambient temperature in winter months potentially contributes to increasing outbreaks in some regions in Egypt. Heat stability of clade 18.104.22.168 and recent 22.214.171.124 viruses probably favours their persistence at elevated temperatures. Importantly, asymptomatically infected Pekin ducks may play an important role in the spread of avian and human-like A/H5N1 in Egypt. Therefore, control measures including targeted surveillance and culling of silently infected Pekin ducks should be considered.