Diversifying evolution of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus in Egypt from 2006 to 2011
An evolutionary analysis was conducted of 354 hemagglutinin (HA) and 208 neuraminidase (NA) genes, including newly generated sequences of 5 HA and 30 NA, of Egyptian H5N1 clade 2.2.1 viruses isolated from poultry and humans. Five distinct phylogenetically distinguishable clusters arose from a monophyletic origin since 2006. Only two clusters remained in circulation after 2009: (i) A cluster of viruses arose in 2007 in industrial-vaccinated chickens and carried multiple mutations in or adjacent to the immunogenic epitopes of the HA. Viruses within this cluster evolved with significantly elevated mutation rates indicating persisting selective pressures, e.g. to escape host immunity and (ii) The second group arose in 2008 and harboured strains from recent human infections featuring a conspicuous deletion in the HA receptor-binding domain and substitutions close to the highly conserved active site of the NA. In both sublineages, a number of positively selected amino acids, different glycosylation patterns and variations in the polybasic proteolytic cleavage site were observed. Continuous monitoring of the evolving H5N1 virus in Egypt is essential to develop new control campaigns in poultry and human population.