Quantifying the effect of swab pool size on the detection of influenza A viruses in broiler chickens and its implications for surveillance

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Background: Timely diagnosis of influenza A virus infections is critical for outbreak control. Due to their rapidity and other logistical advantages, lateral flow immunoassays can support influenza A virus surveillance programs and here, their field performance was proactively assessed. The performance of real-time polymerase chain reaction and two lateral flow immunoassay kits (FluDETECT and VetScan) in detecting low pathogenicity influenza A virus in oropharyngeal swab samples from experimentally inoculated broiler chickens was evaluated and at a flock-level, different testing scenarios were analyzed. Results: For real-time polymerase chain reaction positive individual-swabs, FluDETECT respectively detected 37% and 58% for the H5 and H7 LPAIV compared to 28% and 42% for VetScan. The mean virus titer in H7 samples was higher than for H5 samples. For real-time polymerase chain reaction positive pooled swabs (containing one positive), detections by FluDETECT were significantly higher in the combined 5- and 6-swab samples compared to 11-swab samples. FluDETECT detected 58%, 55.1% and 44.9% for the H7 subtype and 28.3%, 34.0% and 24.6% for the H5 in pools of 5, 6 and 11 respectively. In our testing scenario analysis, at low flock-level LPAIV infection prevalence, testing pools of 11 detected slightly more infections while at higher prevalence, testing pools of 5 or 6 performed better. For highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, testing pools of 11 (versus 5 or 6) detected up to 5% more infections under the assumption of similar sensitivity across pools and detected less by 3% when its sensitivity was assumed to be lower. Conclusions: Much as pooling a bigger number of swab samples increases the chances of having a positive swab included in the sample to be tested, this study's outcomes indicate that this practice may actually reduce the chances of detecting the virus since it may result into lowering the virus titer of the pooled sample. Further analysis on whether having more than one positive swab in a pooled sample would result in increased sensitivity for low pathogenicity avian influenza virus is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number265
JournalBMC Veterinary Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 3 2018


  • Antigen detection
  • Influenza A virus
  • Lateral flow immunoassays
  • Real-time polymerase chain reaction
  • Sample pooling
  • Surveillance

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