Diversity of avian influenza A(H5N6) viruses in wild birds in southern China.


The predominance of H5N6 in ducks and continuous human cases have heightened its potential threat to public health in China. Therefore, the detection of emerging variants of H5N6 avian influenza viruses has become a priority for pandemic preparedness. Questions remain as to its origin and circulation within the wild bird reservoir and interactions at the wild-domestic interface. Samples were collected from migratory birds in Poyang Lake, Jiangxi Province, PR China during the routine bird ring survey in 2014-16. Phylogenetic and coalescent analyses were conducted to uncover the evolutionary relationship among viruses circulating in wild birds. Here, we report the potential origin and phylogenetic diversity of H5N6 viruses isolated from wild birds in Poyang Lake. Sequence analyses indicated that Jiangxi H5N6 viruses most likely evolved from Eurasian-derived H5Nx and H6N6 viruses through multiple reassortment events. Crucially, the diversity of the HA gene implies that these Jiangxi H5N6 viruses have diverged into two primary clades - clade and clade c. Phylogenetic analysis revealed two independent pathways of reassortment during 2014-16 that might have facilitated the generation of emerging variants within wild bird populations as well as inter-species infections. Our findings contribute to our understanding of the genetic diversification of H5N6 viruses in the wild bird population. These results highlight the necessity of large-scale surveillance of wild birds in the Poyang Lake area to address the threat of regional epizootic epidemics and attendant pandemics.

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