To investigate the prevalence and evolution of the H5 subtype highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses circulating in poultry in China during 2007–2009, five molecular epidemiological surveys were carried out. A total of 21 591 swab samples were collected, and from them 55 H5 HPAI viruses were isolated. None of the 55 viruses carried any known mutations, which can render the virus binding to human SAa2,6Gal receptors. The surveys indicated that live-bird markets, backyard flocks and slaughtering sites were at greater risk of being infected with the viruses during winter, and Clades 2.3.2, 2.3.4 and 7 of the viruses co-circulated in poultry in China during 2007–2009. Viruses within Clades 2.3.2 and 7 have become genetically distinguishable from the viruses isolated before 2007 and antigenically distinguishable from the vaccine strains used in China. Viruses within Clade 2.3.2 have been circulating widely in China and caused a new wave of cross-continental spreading from Asia to Europe.


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