The effectiveness of mass vaccination on Marek's disease virus (MDV) outbreaks and detection within a broiler barn: A modeling study

Katherine E. Atkins, Andrew F. Read, Stephen W. Walkden-brown, Nicholas J. Savill, Mark E.j. Woolhouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Marek's disease virus (MDV), a poultry pathogen, has been increasing in virulence since the mid twentieth century. Since multiple vaccines have been developed and widely implemented, losses due to MDV have decreased. However, vaccine failure has occurred in the past and vaccine breakthroughs remain a problem. Failure of disease control with current vaccines would have significant economic and welfare consequences. Nevertheless, the epidemiology of the disease during a farm outbreak is not well understood. Here we present a mathematical model to predict the effectiveness of vaccines to reduce the outbreak probability and disease burden within a barn. We find that the chance of an outbreak within a barn increases with the virulence of an MDV strain, and is significantly reduced when the flock is vaccinated, especially when there the contaminant strain is of low virulence. With low quantities of contaminated dust, there is nearly a 100% effectiveness of vaccines to reduce MDV outbreaks. However, the vaccine effectiveness drops to zero with an increased amount of contamination with a middle virulence MDV strain. We predict that the larger the barn, and the more virulent the MDV strain is, the more virus is produced by the time the flock is slaughtered. With the low-to-moderate virulence of the strains studied here, the number of deaths due to MDV is very low compared to all-cause mortality regardless of the vaccination status of the birds. However, the cumulative MD incidence can reach 100% for unvaccinated cohorts, and 35% for vaccinated cohorts. These results suggest that death due to MDV is an insufficient metric to assess the prevalence of MDV broiler barns regardless of vaccine status, such that active surveillance is required to successfully assess the probability of MDV outbreaks, and to limit transmission of MDV between successive cohorts of broiler chickens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-217
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Animals
  • Australia/epidemiology
  • Chickens/virology
  • Disease Outbreaks/prevention & control
  • Dust/analysis
  • Herpesvirus 2, Gallid/pathogenicity
  • Marek Disease/epidemiology
  • Marek Disease Vaccines/administration & dosage
  • Mass Vaccination/veterinary
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Stochastic Processes
  • United Kingdom/epidemiology
  • United States/epidemiology


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