Between 1993 and 2000, gallinaceous birds, waterfowl, and environmental specimens from the live bird markets (LBMs) of the northeastern United States and non-LBM premises were tested for the presence of avian influenza virus (AIV), pathogenic properties of AIV subtypes, especially of hemagglutinin (H) subtypes H5 and H7, and a possible association between LBM and non-LBM infections. Ten H subtypes of AIV were isolated from the LBM specimens: H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6, H7, H9, H10, and H11. During this period, the 10 subtypes also were isolated from birds in non-LBM premises. In the LBMs, subtypes H2, H3, H4, H6, H7, and H11 were present for 5–8 yr despite efforts to clean and disinfect the premises. The H5 or H7 subtypes present during the same year in both LBMs and non-LBMs within a state or in contiguous states were (subtype/year): H5N2/1993, 1999, and H7N2/1994–99. The AIV subtypes including the H5 and H7 that were evaluated for pathogenicity in chickens were low pathogenic. The deduced amino acid sequence at the H cleavage site of H5 and H7 subtypes was consistent with those of low pathogenic AIV. Although the H5N2 and H7N2 subtypes remained low pathogenic, they did undergo mutations and acquired an additional basic amino acid at the H cleavage site; however, the minimum number of basic amino acids in correct sequence (B-X-B-R, where B = basic amino acid, X = need not be basic amino acid, and R = arginine) required for high pathogenicity was lacking. A low pathogenic H5 or H7 subtype may become highly pathogenic by acquiring additional basic amino acids at the H cleavage site. The LBMs have been and will likely continue to be a source of AIV for commercial poultry.
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