A novel reassortant clade highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N6 virus identified in South Korea in 2018

Since 2017, clade H5N6 highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIVs) have been detected over a broad geographic region, including Eurasia. These viruses have evolved through reassortment with Eurasian low pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIVs), resulting in multiple genotypes. Here, we sequenced the full-length genome of 15 H5N6 HPAIVs collected from wild birds and poultry farms in South Korea from January to March 2018. A comparative phylogenetic analysis was then conducted. Three distinct genotypes were identified in South Korea during 2017/2018, including a novel reassortant genotype, H214. The novel reassortant H5N6 viruses isolated in this study possessed PB2, PA, and NP gene segments of Eurasian LPAIV on a genetic backbone of the H35-like genotype, which was identified in Korea and the Netherlands during 2017. Bayesian molecular clock analysis suggested that the novel reassortant viruses were generated most likely during the fall migration/wintering season of migratory waterfowl in 2017. Considering the continued emergence and spread of clade HPAIV, enhanced surveillance of wild waterfowl is needed for early detection of HPAIV incursions.