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Genesis and spread of multiple reassortants during the 2016/2017 H5 avian influenza epidemic in Eurasia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Anne Pohlmann
  • Christoph Staubach
  • Valentina Caliendo
  • Steven Van Borm
  • Andrew C. Breed
  • Francois-Xavier Briand
  • Ian Brown
  • Ádám Dán
  • Thomas J. DeLiberto
  • Sophie von Dobschuetz
  • Ron A.M. Fouchier
  • Marius Gilbert
  • Sarah Hill
  • Charlotte K. Hjulsager
  • Hon S. Ip
  • Marion Koopmans
  • Lars E. Larsen
  • Dong-Hun Lee
  • Mahmoud Naguib
  • Isabella Monne
  • Oliver G. Pybus
  • Andrew M. Ramey
  • Vladimir Savic
  • Kirill Sharshov
  • Alexander Shestopalov
  • Chang-Seon Song
  • Mieke Steensels
  • David E. Swayne
  • Edyta Swieton
  • Xiu-Feng Wan
  • Siamak Zohari
  • Martin Beer
  • Thijs Kuiken

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Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Early online date7 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Aug 2020


Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses of the H5 A/goose/Guangdong/1/96 lineage can cause severe disease in poultry and wild birds, and occasionally in humans. In recent years, H5 HPAI viruses of this lineage infecting poultry in Asia have spilled over into wild birds and spread via bird migration to countries in Europe, Africa, and North America. In 2016/2017, this spillover resulted in the largest HPAI epidemic on record in Europe, and was associated with an unusually high frequency of reassortments between H5 HPAI viruses and co-circulating low pathogenic avian influenza viruses. Here we show that the seven main H5 reassortant viruses had various combinations of gene segments 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Using detailed time-resolved phylogenetic analysis, most of these gene segments likely originated from wild birds and at dates and locations that corresponded to their hosts’ migratory cycles. However, some gene segments in two reassortant viruses likely originated from domestic anseriforms, either in spring 2016 in east China, or in autumn 2016 in central Europe. Our results demonstrate that, in addition to domestic anseriforms in Asia, both migratory wild birds and domestic anseriforms in Europe are relevant sources of gene segments for recent reassortant H5 HPAI viruses. The ease with which these H5 HPAI viruses reassort, in combination with repeated spillovers of H5 HPAI viruses into wild birds, increase the risk of emergence of a reassortant virus that persists in wild bird populations, yet remains highly pathogenic for poultry.

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