Expanded Cocirculation of Stable Subtypes, Emerging Lineages, and New Sporadic Reassortants of Porcine Influenza Viruses in Swine Populations in Northwest Germany
The emergence of the human 2009 pandemic H1N1 (H1N1pdm) virus from swine populations refocused public and scientific attention on swine as an important source of influenza A viruses bearing zoonotic potential. Widespread and year-round circulation of at least four stable lineages of porcine influenza viruses between 2009 and 2012 in a region of Germany with a high-density swine population is documented here. European avian influenza virus-derived H1N1 (H1N1av) viruses dominated the epidemiology, followed by human-derived subtypes H1N2 and H3N2. H1N1pdm viruses and, in particular, recently emerging reassortants between H1N1pdm and porcine HxN2 viruses (H1pdmN2) were detected in about 8% of cases. Further reassortants between these main lineages were diagnosed sporadically. Ongoing diversification both at the phylogenetic and at the antigenic level was evident for the H1N1av lineage and for some of its reassortants. The H1avN2 reassortant R1931/11 displayed conspicuously distinct genetic and antigenic features and was easily transmitted from pig to pig in an experimental infection. Continuing diverging evolution was also observed in the H1pdmN2 lineage. These viruses carry seven genome segments of the H1N1pdm virus, including a hemagglutinin gene that encodes a markedly antigenically altered protein. The zoonotic potential of this lineage remains to be determined. The results highlight the relevance of surveillance and control of porcine influenza virus infections. This is important for the health status of swine herds. In addition, a more exhaustive tracing of the formation, transmission, and spread of new reassortant influenza A viruses with unknown zoonotic potential is urgently required.