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J Virol. 2007 Mar;81(6):2635-45. Epub 2006 Dec 27.

Evolution and molecular epidemiology of H9N2 influenza A viruses from quail in southern China, 2000 to 2005.

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  • 1State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Disease, Department of Microbiology, The University of Hong Kong, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine Building, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China.


H9N2 influenza viruses have become established and maintain long-term endemicity in terrestrial poultry in Asian countries. Occasionally these viruses transmit to other mammals, including humans. Increasing epidemiological and laboratory findings suggest that quail may be an important host, as they are susceptible to different subtypes of influenza viruses. To better understand the role of quail in influenza virus ecology and evolution, H9N2 viruses isolated from quail during 2000 to 2005 were antigenically and genetically characterized. Our results showed that H9N2 viruses are prevalent year-round in southern China and replicate mainly asymptomatically in the respiratory tract of quail. Genetic analysis revealed that both the G1-like and Ck/Bei-like H9N2 lineages were cocirculating in quail since 2000. Phylogenetic analyses demonstrated that most of the isolates tested were double- or multiple-reassortant variants, with four G1-like and 16 Ck/Bei-like genotypes recognized. A novel genotype of G1-like virus became predominant in quail since 2003, while multiple Ck/Bei-like genotypes were introduced into quail, wherein they incorporated G1-like gene segments, but none of them became established in this host. Those Ck/Bei-like reassortants generated in quail have then been introduced into other poultry. These complex interactions form a two-way transmission system between quail and other types of poultry. The present study provides evidence that H9N2 and H5N1 subtype viruses have also exchanged gene segments to generate currently circulating reassortants of both subtypes that have pandemic potential. Continuing influenza virus surveillance in poultry is critical to understanding the genesis and emergence of potentially pandemic strains in this region.

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