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Avian Nephritis Viral Infections


Victoria Smyth

, PhD, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI)

Last full review/revision Jan 2020 | Content last modified Oct 2020

Avian nephritis viral infections are contagious and are characterized by renal damage, visceral urate deposits, growth retardation, and limited mortality. They are seen mainly in chickens <7 days old, but also occur in ducks and geese. Subclinical infections have been reported in turkeys. Diagnosis is by PCR. No treatment or vaccines are available, so prevention is by improved husbandry.

Avian nephritis viral (ANV) infections are contagious infections of chickens characterized by renal damage and visceral urate deposits, growth retardation, and limited mortality. They are seen mainly in chickens <7 days old, but interstitial nephritis can be observed in chicks up to 4 weeks old. ANV infections have been reported worldwide. Subclinical infections are common and have been detected by serologic surveys in some SPF flocks and in turkeys. ANV was also associated with increased mortality in 4-week-old ducklings and with late dead duck and goose embryos.

Etiology and Transmission

The causal viruses are avian nephritis viruses (ANVs, which are astroviruses), some of which were previously termed enterovirus-like viruses (ELVs), although a second astrovirus of chickens, chicken astrovirus (CAstV), and some strains of infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), also cause kidney disease, urate deposits, and growth problems. The descriptions below relate to ANV only. Strains of ANV vary in virulence and in antigenicity. Transmission occurs by direct or indirect contact. Vertical transmission can also occur but appears less common. Infection can be transmitted by oral administration of virus to day-old birds. Virus is consistently isolated from the kidneys or feces during the first 10 days after infection.

Clinical Findings

Clinical signs of avian nephritis viral infections vary from none to mortality resulting from kidney disease or severe growth retardation. Diarrhea and growth retardation are common in broilers. Outbreaks with mortality of 0%–10% can occur in chicks newly hatched to as old as 7 days; cardinal necropsy findings are renal damage and visceral urate deposits (baby chick nephropathy).


Nephritis is a common necropsy finding for birds with an avian nephritis viral infection. Gross and microscopic lesions are often seen in the kidneys. Swelling, paleness, or yellowish discoloration with excessive urate deposition is frequent. Histologic lesions consist of a degeneration of the epithelial cells with infiltration of granulocytes, interstitial lymphocyte infiltration, and moderate fibrosis. In the latter stages, lymphoid follicles develop.

Some ANVs induce only intestinal lesions varying from decreased length of the microvillus border to total desquamation of the intestinal epithelium.


  • Reverse transcriptase PCR

Nephropathogenic strains of infectious bronchitis virus Infectious Bronchitis and CAstV also cause interstitial nephritis. Therefore, when nephritis is diagnosed, it is necessary to identify the causative agent, but this can be complicated by coinfections of ANV and CAstV, which are common.

Although ANV and related viruses may be isolated by inoculation of suspected material (kidney or rectal contents) in the yolk sac of SPF chick embryos and in chick kidney cells, many ANVs are difficult to isolate. The best way to detect ANV is by reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR or real-time, quantitative RT-PCR of kidney or gut content samples. These tests are designed to detect multiple strains and allow quick differentiation from other viruses.

Serologic diagnosis can be made using direct or indirect immunofluorescence, seroneutralization, or ELISA tests, but these may detect only a limited number of strains of ANV because of its high antigenic diversity, and they are not widely available.

Treatment and Prevention

  • No treatments or vaccines are available, so prevention is by improved husbandry

There is no effective treatment for avian nephritis viral infections. Fogging poultry houses, stringent cleaning and disinfection, and ample downtime between crops are recommended.

Key Points

  • Avian nephritis viral infections lead to intestinal and kidney damage of young birds, which can cause growth problems or mortality.

  • Enteric strains are contracted via the fecal-oral route.

  • Diagnosis is confirmed by PCR.

  • No treatments or vaccines are available.

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