Newcastle disease (ND) is one of the most important diseases of poultry, and may cause devastating losses in the poultry industry worldwide. Its causative agent is Newcastle disease virus (NDV), also known as avian paramyxovirus type 1. Many countries maintain a stringent vaccination policy against ND, but there are indications that ND outbreaks can still occur despite intensive vaccination. It has been argued that this may be due to antigenic divergence between the vaccine strains and circulating field strains. Here we present the complete genome sequence of a highly virulent genotype VII virus (NL/93) obtained from vaccinated poultry during an outbreak of ND in the Netherlands in 1992–1993. Using this strain, we investigated whether the identified genetic evolution of NDV is accompanied by antigenic evolution. In this study we show that a live vaccine that is antigenically adapted to match the genotype VII NL/93 outbreak strain does not provide increased protection compared to a classic genotype II live vaccine. When challenged with the NL/93 strain, chickens vaccinated with a classic vaccine were completely protected against clinical disease and mortality and virus shedding was significantly reduced, even with a supposedly suboptimal vaccine dose. These results suggest that it is not antigenic variation but rather poor flock immunity due to inadequate vaccination practices that may be responsible for outbreaks and spreading of virulent NDV field strains.
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