FZEA-USP, Av. Duque de Caxias Norte, 225, Pirassununga, SP, CEP 13635-900, Brazil.
Ducks play an important role in the epidemiology of avian influenza, and there is a need for new avian influenza vaccines that are suitable for mass vaccination in ducks. The immune responses as well as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 protection induced by a Newcastle disease virus (NDV) vector expressing an H5N1 hemagglutinin (rNDV-H5) were investigated in mule ducks, a hybrid between Muscovy (Cairina moschata domesticus) males and Pekin (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus) females. Immunological tools to measure NDV and H5-specific serum antibody, mucosal, and cell-mediated immune (CMI) responses in ducks have been validated after infection with the vector NDV and an H5N1 low pathogenic avian influenza virus. The effect of maternally-derived antibodies (MDAs) to NDV on the humoral and CMI responses after NDV-H5 vaccination was also investigated. Our results showed the rNDV-H5 vaccine elicits satisfactory humoral and cellular responses in 11-day-old ducks correlating with a complete clinical and virological protection against the H5N1 strain. However, vaccination with rNDV-H5 in the presence of NDV MDA induced lower NDV-specific serum antibody, mucosal, and CMI responses than in ducks with no MDA, while interestingly the H5-specific serum antibody and duodenal IgY response were higher in ducks with NDV MDA. To our knowledge, this is the first report of the use of an NDV vector in ducks and of an HPAI H5N1 challenge in mule ducks, which appeared to be as resistant as Pekin ducks.