Genetics of Japanese H5N8 high pathogenicity avian influenza viruses isolated in winter 2020-2021 and their genetic relationship with avian influenza viruses in Siberia

In winter 2020-2021, Japan experienced multiple serious outbreaks of H5N8 high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI)-52 outbreaks at poultry farms and 58 cases in wild birds or the environment-that occurred simultaneously with outbreaks in Europe. Here, we examined how the H5N8 HPAI viruses (HPAIVs) emerged and spread through Japan and across the Eurasian continent. Phylogenetic and phylogeographic analyses were performed using full genetic sequences of the viruses that caused 52 outbreaks at poultry farms or were isolated from 11 infected wild birds. Genetically, the viruses showed five genotypes (E1, E2, E3, E5, E7) that have already been reported in Korea. The viruses showing the E3 genotype were found to have caused most of the HPAI outbreaks at poultry farms and were detected over the longest period of time. The internal genes of the viruses were genetically related to those of AIVs isolated through avian influenza surveillance activities in regions of Siberia including Buryatia, Yakutia, and Amur regions, suggesting that the Japanese viruses emerged via reassortment events with AIVs genetically related to Siberian AIVs. In addition, H5N2 and H5N8 HPAIVs were isolated from wild birds during surveillance activities conducted in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia in summer 2020. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that these viruses possessed hemagglutinin genes that were related to those of H5N8 HPAIVs that were circulating in Europe in winter 2020-2021. These results suggest that the viruses in wild birds during summer in Siberia most likely spread in both Asia and Europe the following winter. Together, the present results emphasize the importance of continual monitoring of AIVs in Siberia for forecasting outbreaks not only in Asia but also further away in Europe.