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Impact of antigenic and genetic drift on the serologic surveillance of H5N2 avian influenza viruses

Magdalena Escorcia1, Karol Carrillo-Sánchez2, Santiago March-Mifsut2, Joaquin Chapa3, Eduardo Lucio3 and Gerardo M Nava4*

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Producción Animal Aves. Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, D. F., CP 04510, México

2 Instituto Nacional de Medicina Genómica, Periférico Sur No. 4124, Torre Zafiro II, Piso 6. Col. Ex Rancho de Anzaldo, Alvaro Obregón. D. F. CP 01900. México

3 Investigación Aplicada S. A. de C. V. 7 Norte 416. Tehuacán, Puebla. CP 75700. México

4 Washington University School of Medicine. Dept. Pathology and Immunology. 660 S. Euclid Ave. St. Louis, MO 63110. USA

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BMC Veterinary Research 2010, 6:57  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-6-57

Published: 20 December 2010



Serologic surveillance of Avian Influenza (AI) viruses is carried out by the hemagglutination inhibition (HI) test using reference reagents. This method is recommended by animal health organizations as a standard test to detect antigenic differences (subtypes) between circulating influenza virus, vaccine- and/or reference- strains. However, significant discrepancies between reference antisera and field isolates have been observed during serosurveillance of influenza A viruses in pig and poultry farms. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of influenza virus genetic and antigenic drift on serologic testing using standard HI assays and reference reagents. Low pathogenic AI H5N2 viruses isolated in Mexico between 1994 and 2008 were used for phylogenetic analysis of AI hemagglutinin genes and for serologic testing using antisera produced with year-specific AI virus isolates.


Phylogenetic analysis revealed significant divergence between early LPAI H5N2 viruses (1994 - 1998) and more recent virus field isolates (2002 - 2008). Results of the HI test were markedly influenced by the selection of the AI H5N2 virus (year of isolation) used as reference antigen for the assay. These analyses indicate that LPAI H5N2 viruses in Mexico are constantly undergoing genetic drift and that serosurveillance of AI viruses is significantly influenced by the antigen or antisera used for the HI test.


Reference viral antigens and/or antisera need to be replaced constantly during surveillance of AI viruses to keep pace with the AI antigenic drift. This strategy should improve the estimation of antigenic differences between circulating AI viruses and the selection of suitable vaccine strains.