H5N1 Terminology

H5N1 isolates are identified like this actual HPAI A(H5N1) example, A/chicken/Nakorn-Patom/Thailand/CU-K2/04(H5N1):

  • A stands for the species of influenza (A, B or C).
  • chicken is the species the isolate was found in
  • Nakorn-Patom/Thailand is the place this specific virus was isolated
  • CU-K2 identifies it from other influenza viruses isolated at the same place
  • 04 represents the year 2004
  • H5 stands for the fifth of several known types of the protein hemagglutinin.
  • N1 stands for the first of several known types of the protein neuraminidase.

As with other avian flu viruses, H5N1 has strains called "highly pathogenic" (HP) and "low-pathogenic" (LP). Avian influenza viruses that cause HPAI are highly virulent, and mortality rates in infected flocks often approach 100%. LPAI viruses have negligible virulence, but these viruses can serve as progenitors to HPAI viruses. The current strain of H5N1 responsible for the deaths of birds across the world is an HPAI strain; all other current strains of H5N1, including a North American strain that causes no disease at all in any species, are LPAI strains. All HPAI strains identified to date have involved H5 and H7 subtypes. The distinction concerns pathogenicity in poultry, not humans. Normally a highly pathogenic avian virus is not highly pathogenic to either humans or non-poultry birds. This current deadly strain of H5N1 is unusual in being deadly to so many species, including some, like domestic cats, never previously susceptible to any influenza virus.