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Two human cases of avian influenza A (H3N8) virus infection were reported in China in 2022.


To characterise H3N8 viruses circulating in China in September 2021−May 2022.


We sampled poultry and poultry-related environments in 25 Chinese provinces. After isolating H3N8 viruses, whole genome sequences were obtained for molecular and phylogenetic analyses. The specificity of H3N8 viruses towards human or avian receptors was assessed in vitro. Their ability to replicate in chicken and mice, and to transmit between guinea pigs was also investigated.


In total, 98 H3N8 avian influenza virus isolates were retrieved from 38,639 samples; genetic analysis of 31 representative isolates revealed 17 genotypes. Viruses belonging to 10 of these genotypes had six internal genes originating from influenza A (H9N2) viruses. These reassorted viruses could be found in live poultry markets and comprised the strains responsible for the two human infections. A subset of nine H3N8 viruses (including six reassorted) that replicated efficiently in mice bound to both avian-type and human-type receptors in vitro. Three reassorted viruses were shed by chickens for up to 9 days, replicating efficiently in their upper respiratory tract. Five reassorted viruses tested on guinea pigs were transmissible among these by respiratory droplets.


Avian H3N8 viruses with H9N2 virus internal genes, causing two human infections, occurred in live poultry markets in China. The low pathogenicity of H3N8 viruses in poultry allows their continuous circulation with potential for reassortment. Careful monitoring of spill-over infections in humans is important to strengthen early-warning systems and maintain influenza pandemic preparedness.


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