Infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) causes significant losses in the poultry industry throughout the world. Here we characterize the lesions of infectious bronchitis (IB), IBV prevalence and identify the circulating strains in small flocks in California. Backyard chickens (BYCs) submitted to the Davis (Northern California; NorCal) and San Bernardino (Southern California; SoCal) branches of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System from January through March 2019 were included in the study. Trachea, kidney, and cecal tonsils were collected for qRT-PCR, histology, immunohistochemistry (IHC) and sequence analysis. A total of 50 chickens out of 169 submissions tested positive for IBV by qRT-PCR. Of these, 16% (20/123) were from NorCal and 65% (30/46) from SoCal laboratory. The cecal tonsil was the most frequently positive tissue by qRT-PCR and IHC. Lymphoplasmacytic tracheitis was the most frequent histopathologic finding in 24 of 39 birds while the kidney showed interstitial nephritis, tubular necrosis, tubular dilation and/or gout in 14 of 43 chickens. Infectious bronchitis virus played a primary role or a synergistic effect in the mortality of chickens succumbed by other infectious diseases. The sequences of IBV detected in 22 birds were analyzed and 14 strains were most similar to CA1737. One strain each matched Conn46, Cal99, and ArkDPI, and the remaining five did not have a substantial match to any available reference strains. The findings in this study indicate that small flocks can be reservoirs of IBV and might facilitate evolution of new variants as well as reversion of attenuated strains to virulence.

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