After two decades free of Newcastle disease, Belgium encountered a velogenic avian orthoavulavirus type 1 epizootic in 2018. In Belgium, 20 cases were diagnosed, of which 15 occurred in hobby flocks, 2 in professional poultry flocks and 3 in poultry retailers. The disease also disseminated from Belgium towards the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg by trade. Independently, the virus was detected once in the Netherlands, almost simultaneously to the first Belgian detection. As such Newcastle disease emerged in the entire BeNeLux region. Both the polybasic sequence of the fusion gene cleavage site and the intracerebral pathotyping assay demonstrated the high pathogenicity of the strain. This paper represents the first notification of this specific VII.2 subgenotype in the North-West of Europe. Time-calibrated full genome phylogenetic analysis indicated the silent or unreported circulation of the virus prior to the emergence of three genetic clusters in the BeNeLux region without clear geographical or other epidemiological correlation. The Dutch strain appeared as an outgroup to the Belgian and Luxembourgian strains in the time-correlated genetic analysis and no epidemiological link could be identified between the Belgian and Dutch outbreaks. In contrast, both genetic and epidemiological outbreak investigation data linked the G.D. Luxembourg case to the Belgian outbreak. The genetic links between Belgian viruses from retailers and hobby flocks only partially correlated with epidemiological data. Two independent introductions into the professional poultry sector were identified, although their origin could not be determined. Animal experiments using 6-week- old specific pathogen-free chickens indicated a systemic infection and efficient transmission of the virus. The implementation of re-vaccination in the professional sector, affected hobby and retailers, as well as the restriction on assembly and increased biosecurity measures, possibly limited the epizootic and resulted in the disappearance of the virus. These findings emphasize the constant need for awareness and monitoring of notifiable viruses in the field.
- Newcastle disease
- professional poultry