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Development of a chick bioassay for determination of infectivity of viral pathogens in poultry litter


Corresponding author.



To develop a chicken bioassay to detect infective viral pathogens in poultry litter and to determine the effects of type of chicken and age of exposure, as well as the effect of simulated litter transportation, on the level of viral infectivity detected.


A 5 × 2 × 2 factorial design, plus negative controls. Five chicken litters, including two with deliberate contamination (one transported and one not), two chicken types (specific-pathogen-free (SPF) Leghorns and Cobb broilers) and two ages at initial exposure (days 1 and 8). Two replicates of each treatment combination.


The 10 chickens in each of 22 isolators were either exposed (20 isolators) or not (2 isolators) to 8 L of previously used or deliberately contaminated poultry litter in two deep scratch trays. At day 35 post-exposure, sera were assayed for antibodies against chicken anaemia virus (CAV), infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV), Newcastle disease virus (NDV) and fowl adenovirus (FAV). Spleen samples were tested for Marek's disease virus (MDV) using real-time polymerase chain reaction.


The bioassay detected CAV, IBDV and FAV, but not NDV, IBV or MDV, in chickens exposed to infected litters. Infection in SPF chickens was detected with greater sensitivity than in the broiler chickens. Sensitivity increased with age at exposure in broiler but not SPF chickens. Simulated transportation for 24 h had little effect on pathogen detection.


A bioassay based on the exposure of day-old SPF chickens to poultry litter and measurement of seroconversion at day 35 post-exposure is a useful semi-quantitative assay for viral infectivity in poultry litter, with overnight transportation of litter having little effect on the level of viral infectivity detected. This bioassay has applications in research on litter treatment protocols.

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