Phylogenetic Analysis of H5N8 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Viruses in Ukraine, 2016-2017

Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) can be carried long distances by migratory wild birds and by poultry trade. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is often lethal in domestic poultry and can sporadically infect and cause severe respiratory or systemic disease in other species including humans. Since 2003, the H5 subtype of HPAIV have spread from epicenters in China to neighboring regions in East and Southeast Asia, and across Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent, Europe, Africa, and North America. Outbreaks of H5N1 HPAIV struck poultry in Ukraine in 2005. In 2016, A H5N8 clade HPAIV outbreaks occurred in wild and domestic birds in Ukraine concurrently with outbreaks in Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. We report outbreaks of HPAI in domestic backyard poultry in (2016-2017) in the southern region of Ukraine, in proximity to mass gathering sites for migratory waterfowl including mute swans (Cygnus olor). All eight genome segments of three novel H5N8 HPAIV isolated in November 2016 from two domestic backyard chickens (Gallus gallus) and one backyard mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) found dead of HPAI in Azov-Black Sea region of Ukraine were cladistically related to H5N8 HPAI viruses isolated from wild shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) and white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) in Askania Nova Biopreserve (Kherson district, Ukraine) in 2016-2017 and to other contemporary H5N8 HPAIV strains sequenced from wild birds and poultry in Eurasia. Amino acid variations in hemagglutinin were outside of the polybasic cleavage site (PLREKRRKR/GLF), and D224G suggested avian-like receptor binding specificity; neuraminidase did not have mutations characteristic of oseltamivir drug resistance. Outbreaks of HPAI in Ukraine highlight the continual need for biosurveillance and genomic sequencing of avian influenza viruses along wild bird flyways and interfaces with domestic poultry in Eurasia.