Genetic characterization of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses isolated from naturally infected pigeons in Egypt
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- Elgendy, E.M., Watanabe, Y., Daidoji, T. et al. Virus Genes (2016) 52: 867. doi:10.1007/s11262-016-1369-z
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Avian influenza viruses impose serious public health burdens with significant mortality and morbidity not only in poultry but also in humans. While poultry susceptibility to avian influenza virus infection is well characterized, pigeons have been thought to have low susceptibility to these viruses. However, recent studies reported natural pigeon infections with highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses. In Egypt, which is one of the H5N1 endemic areas for birds, pigeons are raised in towers built on farms in backyards and on house roofs, providing a potential risk for virus transmission from pigeons to humans. In this study, we performed genetic analysis of two H5N1 virus strains that were isolated from naturally infected pigeons in Egypt. Genetic and phylogenetic analyses showed that these viruses originated from Egyptian H5N1 viruses that were circulating in chickens or ducks. Several unique mutations, not reported before in any Egyptian isolates, were detected in the internal genes (i.e., polymerase residues PB1-V3D, PB1-K363R, PA-A369V, and PA-V602I; nucleoprotein residue NP-R38K; and nonstructural protein residues NS1-D120N and NS2-F55C). Our findings suggested that pigeons are naturally infected with H5N1 virus and can be a potential reservoir for transmission to humans, and showed the importance of genetic analysis of H5N1 internal genes.