Investigation of a herpesvirus outbreak in mixed breeds of adult domestic ducks using next generation sequencing

Hassan Abu Damir, Waqar Ahmad, Neena G. Panicker, Layla I. Mohamed, Elhag A. Omer, Jörg Kinne, Ulrich Wernery, Abdu Adem, Mahmoud A. Ali, Farah Mustafa

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This report characterizes the first lethal outbreak of Marek's disease on a large farm of mixed-breed adult ducks (>18,000) and identifies the pathogen that resulted in high mortality (35%). Clinical signs included inappetence, respiratory distress, depression, muscle weakness, and ataxia. Post mortem revealed enlarged fragile liver mottled with miliary whitish spots and an enlarged spleen. Histopathology revealed hepatocellular necrosis with eosinophilic intra-nuclear inclusion bodies, necrosis of splenic follicles and degeneration/necrosis of renal tubules. The disease was tentatively diagnosed as a herpesvirus infection, confirmed by virus isolation from the liver. DNA was isolated from 15-year-old archival formalin-fixed tissues from infected ducks and subjected to next generation sequencing (NGS). Despite highly degraded DNA, short stretches of G- and C-rich repeats (TTAGGG and TAACCC) were identified as telomeric repeats frequently found in herpesviruses. Megablast and further investigative bioinformatics identified presence of Marek's disease virus (MDV), a Gallid alphaherpesvirus type 2 (GAHV-2), as the cause of the acute fatal infection. The source of infection may be attributed to a dead migratory flamingo found close to the duck enclosures three days prior to the outbreak; hence, GAHV-2 may also be responsible for the fatal infection of the flamingo accentuated by heat stress. Considering the possible spread of this highly contagious and lethal virus from a flamingo to the ducks, and the increasing zoonosis of animal viruses into humans, such as monkey B alphaherpesvirus transmission from macaques to humans with ~80% fatality, this observation has important ramifications for human health and safety of the poultry industry.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0280923
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1 January
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

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