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J Virol. 2005 Mar;79(6):3692-702.

Characterization of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza A viruses isolated from South Korea.

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  • 1Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, USDA-ARS, 934 College Station Rd., Athens, GA 30605, USA.


An unprecedented outbreak of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been reported for poultry in eight different Asian countries, including South Korea, since December 2003. A phylogenetic analysis of the eight viral genes showed that the H5N1 poultry isolates from South Korea were of avian origin and contained the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes of the A/goose/Guangdong/1/96 (Gs/Gd) lineage. The current H5N1 strains in Asia, including the Korean isolates, share a gene constellation similar to that of the Penfold Park, Hong Kong, isolates from late 2002 and contain some molecular markers that seem to have been fixed in the Gs/Gd lineage virus since 2001. However, despite genetic similarities among recent H5N1 isolates, the topology of the phylogenetic tree clearly differentiates the Korean isolates from the Vietnamese and Thai isolates which have been reported to infect humans. A representative Korean isolate was inoculated into mice, with no mortality and no virus being isolated from the brain, although high titers of virus were observed in the lungs. The same isolate, however, caused systemic infections in chickens and quail and killed all of the birds within 2 and 4 days of intranasal inoculation, respectively. This isolate also replicated in multiple organs and tissues of ducks and caused some mortality. However, lower virus titers were observed in all corresponding tissues of ducks than in chicken and quail tissues, and the histological lesions were restricted to the respiratory tract. This study characterizes the molecular and biological properties of the H5N1 HPAI viruses from South Korea and emphasizes the need for comparative analyses of the H5N1 isolates from different countries to help elucidate the risk of a human pandemic from the strains of H5N1 HPAI currently circulating in Asia.

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