Molecular identification of avian influenza virus subtypes H5N1 and H9N2 in birds from farms and live bird markets and in respiratory patients

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5473
Journal / PublicationPeerJ
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes



Background. Avian influenza viruses (AIVs) have been endemic in Egypt since 2006, and the co-circulation of high-pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 and low-pathogenic avian influenza H9N2 subtypes in poultry has been reported; therefore, Egypt is considered a hotspot for the generation of new subtypes and genotypes. We aimed to characterize AIVs circulating on commercial farms and in live bird markets (LBMs) during the winters of 2015 and 2016 in the study area and to identify H5N1 and H9N2 viruses in respiratory patients. Methods. In total, 159 samples were collected from ducks, pigeons and quails on farms (n=59) and in LBMs (n=100) and screened by real-time RT-PCR for H5N1 and H9N2 subtypes. Clinical and postmortem examination was carried out on birds from the farms. Positive H5N1 samples were sequenced and analysed for mutations. Tracheal swabs were also collected from 89 respiratory patients admitted to respiratory hospitals in the same study area. Results. Overall, H5N1 was identified in 13.6% of birds from farms, while it was detected in 17% of birds in LBMs. Subtype H9N2 was only identified from pigeons on farms (6.5%) and LBMs (11.4%). Sequencing of the haemagglutination gene (HA) in nine representative H5N1 isolates revealed a multi-basic amino acid motif at the cleavage site (321-PQGEKRRKKR/GLF-333), which is characteristic of highly pathogenic AIV, in five of our isolates, while the other four isolates showed an amino acid substitution (Q322K) at this cleavage site to make it (321-P K GEKRRKKR/GLF- 333). All the isolates belonged to clade, and a comparison of HA sequences at the amino acid level showed 98.8-100% homology among the nine isolates, while they showed 94.1-96.1% identity with reference strains and the commonly used vaccine strain in Egypt. Out of 89 respiratory patients, 3.4% were positive for H5N1 and no patients were positive for H9N2. Discussion. Our results indicated the circulation of the endemic H5N1 and H9N2 viruses among poultry in 2015 and 2016. Birds on farms and in LBMs are reservoirs playing a role in the dissemination of the virus and producing a public health risk. The application of proper hygienic measures in farms and LBMs to control the exposure of birds and humans to the source of infection along with continuous monitoring of the circulating viruses will provide information on understanding the evolution of the viruses for vaccine studies.

Research Area(s)

  • Avian Influenza Viruses, H5N1, H9N2, Mutation

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