Novel H1N2 influenza A viruses which were first detected in pigs in Great Britain in 1994 were examined antigenically and genetically to determine their origins and establish the potential mechanisms for genetic reassortment. The haemagglutinin (HA) of all swine H 1 N2 viruses examined was most closely related to, but clearly distinguishable both antigenically and genetically from, the HA of human H1N1 viruses which circulated in the human population during the early 1 980s. Phylogenetic analysis of the HA gene revealed that the swine H 1 N2 viruses formed a distinct branch on the human lineage and were probably introduced to pigs shortly after 1980. Following apparent transfer to pigs the HA gene underwent genetic variation resulting in the establishment and cocirculation of genetically and antigenically heterogeneous virus populations. Genetic analyses of the other RNA segments of all swine H1N2 viruses indicated that the neuraminidase gene was most closely related to those of early 'human-like' swine H3N2 viruses, whilst the RNA segments encoding PB2, PB1, PA, NP, M and NS were related most closely to those of avian viruses, which have been circulating recently in pigs in Northern Europe. The potential mechanisms and probable progenitor strains for genetic reassortment are discussed, but we propose that the swine H1N2 viruses examined originated following multiple genetic reassortment, initially involving human H1N1 and 'human-like' swine H3N2 viruses, followed by reassortment with 'avian-like' swine H1N1 virus. These findings suggest multiple reassortment and replication of influenza viruses may occur in pigs many years before their detection as clinical entities.


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