H5N1 Mutations: Tracking and Predicting the Next Pandemic Threat


H5N1 avian influenza poses a significant threat. This virus causes economic losses in poultry and severe illness in humans. New H5N1 variants with increased ability to infect birds and mammals raise concerns about a future pandemic. This article explores H5N1 mutations, how we track them, and how science is used to predict the next pandemic threat.

Mutations of Concern

H5N1 viruses constantly change their genetic makeup, especially in proteins on their surface (hemagglutinin and neuraminidase). These changes can affect how the virus binds to cells and its resistance to medication. Specific mutations in hemagglutinin (at positions 294, 598, and 627) have been linked to increased binding to human-like receptors, making it easier to infect people.

Mutations in the neuraminidase protein can also be problematic. Deletions or insertions of certain amino acids can make H5N1 resistant to antiviral drugs like oseltamivir, limiting treatment options during an outbreak.

Structure of influenza A virus showing the two major surface glycoproteins (hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA)), the nucleocapsid and polymerase proteins (NP, PB1, PB2, and PA), the matrix proteins (M1 and M2), the non-structural proteins (nuclear export protein (NEP)), lipid bilayer and segmented negative-strand RNA genes

Surveillance and Tracking

Global influenza surveillance programs exist to track H5N1 mutations. The World Health Organization (WHO) and national influenza centers isolate viruses from sick people and birds. They then analyze the genetic makeup and antigenic properties of these viruses.

Surveillance is also increased in poultry farms, especially in areas with ongoing H5N1 activity. Scientists share sequence data through platforms like GISAID, allowing researchers to identify and track new variants with pandemic potential.

Strategy and modes of avian influenza surveillance in different populations and settings.

Reliable Detection is Key

For accurate and timely detection of H5N1 strains, consider AffiVET® Avian Influenza A H5N1 RT PCR & One Step qPCR from Maxanim (Gentau Group). This commercial assay offers a fast and reliable solution for H5N1 surveillance. Visit our website Maxanim to learn more about this and other avian influenza detection solutions.

Computational Prediction of Pandemic Threats

Scientists use computer models to predict the next pandemic influenza virus. These models involve creating viruses with specific mutations and testing them in animals to see how easily they spread and cause disease.

Machine learning is another approach. By analyzing large datasets of influenza sequences, algorithms can identify mutations associated with increased ability to infect mammals and predict the pandemic potential of new variants.

High-confidence modeling of ACs of HPAI H5N1 viruses. (a) Predicted antigenic correlation network (ACnet) of the ACs defined for 2441 HPAI H5N1 viruses with unique HA1 protein sequences. All pairs of viruses which were predicted to be antigenically similar were connected in ACnet. Triangles in the network refer to the viruses from China. The names for the major ACs (in color) are indicated, while minor ACs are shown in gray. (b) Phylogenetic tree of the 2441 HA1 sequences, colored according to the predicted ACs. The sub-clades to which the viruses belong (H5N1 Evolution Working Group nomenclature) are shown to the right. The branch length was scaled according to the legend in the top left. The strains listed to the left of the tree refer to the strains used for naming the predicted major ACs. The stars indicate strains used in the HI assay. (c) The antigenic cartography for six representative viruses of four antigenic clusters which were mainly composed of viruses of clade 2.3.4 and its sub-clades. The viruses were colored according to the antigenic clusters they belong to.


H5N1 continues to be a significant public health threat due to its ongoing evolution and potential to jump from animals to humans. Continued surveillance, identification of new variants, and improved prediction models are crucial for pandemic preparedness. International collaboration and rapid information sharing are essential to minimize the impact of a potential H5N1 pandemic.

Learn more about the public health risk of avian influenza A(H5N1) in this video.

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H5N1 Mutations: Tracking and Predicting the Next Pandemic Threat
Gen store May 30, 2024
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