Genetic Characterization and Pathogenesis of the First H9N2 Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Viruses Isolated From Chickens in Kenyan Live Bird Markets

Infect Genet Evol. 2020 Mar;78:104074. doi: 10.1016/j.meegid.2019.104074. Epub 2019 Oct 18.


Poultry production plays an important role in the economy and livelihoods of rural households in Kenya. As part of a surveillance program, avian influenza virus (AIV)-specific real-time RT-PCR (RRT-PCR) was used to screen 282 oropharyngeal swabs collected from chickens at six live bird markets (LBMs) and 33 backyard poultry farms in Kenya and 8 positive samples were detected. Virus was isolated in eggs from five samples, sequenced, and identified as H9N2 low pathogenic AIV (LPAIV) G1 lineage, with highest nucleotide sequence identity (98.6-99.9%) to a 2017 Ugandan H9N2 isolate. The H9N2 contained molecular markers for mammalian receptor specificity, implying their zoonotic potential. Virus pathogenesis and transmissibility was assessed by inoculating low and medium virus doses of a representative Kenyan H9N2 LPAIV isolate into experimental chickens and exposing them to naïve uninfected chickens at 2 -days post inoculation (dpi). Virus shedding was determined at 2/4/7 dpi and 2/5 days post placement (dpp), and seroconversion determined at 14 dpi/12 dpp. None of the directly-inoculated or contact birds exhibited any mortality or clinical disease signs. All directly-inoculated birds in the low dose group shed virus during the experiment, while only one contact bird shed virus at 2 dpp. Only two directly-inoculated birds that shed high virus titers seroconverted in that group. All birds in the medium dose group shed virus at 4/7 dpi and at 5 dpp, and they all seroconverted at 12/14 dpp. This is the first reported detection of H9N2 LPAIV from Kenya and it was shown to be infectious and transmissible in chickens by direct contact and represents a new disease threat to poultry and potentially to people.

Keywords: Backyard poultry farms; G1 lineage; H9N2 LPAIV; Live-bird markets; Oropharyngeal; Zoonotic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.