Background: There is paucity of data on the virulence of highly pathogenic (HP) avian influenza viruses (AIV) H7 in ducks compared to HPAIV H5. Here, the virulence of HPAIV H7N1 (designated H7N1-FPV34 and H7N1-It99) and H7N7 (designated H7N7-FPV27) was assessed in Pekin and/or Muscovy ducklings after intrachoanal (IC) or intramuscular (IM) infection.
Results: The morbidity rate ranged from 60 to 100% and mortality rate from 20 to 80% depending on the duck species, virus strain and/or challenge route. All Muscovy ducklings inoculated IC with H7N7-FPV27 or H7N1-FPV34 exhibited mild to severe clinical signs resulting in the death of 2/10 and 8/10 ducklings, respectively. Also, 2/10 and 6/9 of inoculated Muscovy ducklings died after IC or IM infection with H7N1-It99, respectively. Moreover, 5/10 Pekin ducklings inoculated IC or IM with H7N1-It99 died. The level of virus detected in the oropharyngeal swabs was higher than in the cloacal swabs.
Conclusion: Taken together, HPAIV H7 cause mortality and morbidity in Muscovy and Pekin ducklings. The severity of disease in Muscovy ducklings depended on the virus strain and/or route of infection. Preferential replication of the virus in the respiratory tract compared to the gut merits further investigation.