Characterization of An avian influenza virus of subtype H7N2 isolated from chickens in northern China

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An H7N2 avian influenza virus was isolated from chickens during routine surveillance in northern China in 2002. To understand the origin of this virus, we completely sequenced its genome. The PB1, PA, HA, and M genes of this virus were highly homologous with those of the wild bird virus A/Africa starling/Eng-Q/983/79 (H7N1). The NP and NS genes were closely related to those of two other wild bird viruses isolated 30 years ago. The closest relatives of the PB2 and NA genes of the virus were those of the A/swine/Germany/2/81 (H1NI) and A/Leningrad/134/57 (H2N2), respectively. Animal inoculation tests showed that the virus cannot replicate efficiently in chickens. However, after intranasal inoculation, the virus induced 20% weight loss and replicated well in the lungs of mice. The virus was also recovered from the hearts and brains of the mice. These results suggest that the influenza virus isolated in chickens in northern China in 2002 originated in wild birds and may pose a threat for both avian species and mammalian hosts.

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