The introduction of an influenza A virus possessing a novel hemagglutinin (HA) into an immunologically naive human population has the potential to cause severe disease and death. Such was the case in 1997 in Hong Kong, where H5N1 influenza was transmitted to humans from infected poultry. Because H5N1 viruses are still isolated from domestic poultry in southern China, there needs to be continued surveillance of poultry and characterization of virus subtypes and variants. This study provides molecular characterization and evaluation of pathogenesis of a recent H5N1 virus isolated from duck meat that had been imported to South Korea from China. The HA gene of A/Duck/Anyang/AVL-1/01 (H5N1) isolate was found to be closely related to the Hong Kong/97 H5N1 viruses. This virus also contained multiple basic amino acids adjacent to the cleavage site between HA1 and HA2, characteristic of high-pathogenicity avian influenza viruses (HPAI). The pathogenesis of this virus was characterized in chickens, ducks, and mice. The DK/Anyang/AVL-1/01 isolate replicated well in all species and resulted in 100% and 22% lethality for chickens and mice, respectively. No clinical signs of disease were observed in DK/Anyang/AVL-1/01-inoculated ducks, but high titers of infectious virus could be detected in multiple tissues and oropharyngeal swabs. The presence of an H5N1 influenza virus in ducks bearing a HA gene that is highly similar to those of the pathogenic 1997 human/poultry H5N1 viruses raises the possibility of reintroduction of HPAI to chickens and humans.
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