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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26818. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026818. Epub 2011 Oct 28.

Evidence of infection with H4 and H11 avian influenza viruses among Lebanese chicken growers.

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Division of Virology, Department of Infectious Diseases, St Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America.


Human infections with H5, H7, and H9 avian influenza viruses are well documented. Exposure to poultry is the most important risk factor for humans becoming infected with these viruses. Data on human infection with other low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses is sparse but suggests that such infections may occur. Lebanon is a Mediterranean country lying under two major migratory birds flyways and is home to many wild and domestic bird species. Previous reports from this country demonstrated that low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses are in circulation but highly pathogenic H5N1 viruses were not reported. In order to study the extent of human infection with avian influenza viruses in Lebanon, we carried out a seroprevalence cross-sectional study into which 200 poultry-exposed individuals and 50 non-exposed controls were enrolled. We obtained their sera and tested it for the presence of antibodies against avian influenza viruses types H4 through H16 and used a questionnaire to collect exposure data. Our microneutralization assay results suggested that backyard poultry growers may have been previously infected with H4 and H11 avian influenza viruses. We confirmed these results by using a horse red blood cells hemagglutination inhibition assay. Our data also showed that farmers with antibodies against each virus type clustered in a small geographic area suggesting that unrecognized outbreaks among birds may have led to these human infections. In conclusion, this study suggests that occupational exposure to chicken is a risk factor for infection with avian influenza especially among backyard growers and that H4 and H11 influenza viruses may possess the ability to cross the species barrier to infect humans.

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