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Antigenic and genetic characterization of influenza viruses circulating in Bulgaria during the 2015/2016 season

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journal contribution
posted on 27.08.2020 by Neli Korsun, Svetla Angelova, Viki Gregory, Rodney Daniels, Irina Georgieva, John McCauley
Influenza virological surveillance is an essential tool for early detection of novel genetic variants of epidemiologic and clinical significance. The aim of this study was to determine the antigenic and molecular characteristics of influenza viruses circulating in Bulgaria during the 2015/2016 season. The season was characterized by dominant circulation of A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, accounting for 66% of detected influenza viruses, followed by B/Victoria-lineage viruses (24%) and A(H3N2) viruses (10%). All sequenced influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, A(H3N2) and B/Victoria-lineage viruses belonged to the 6B.1, 3C.2a and 1A genetic groups, respectively. Amino acid analysis of 57 A(H1N1)pdm09 isolates revealed the presence of 16 changes in hemagglutinin (HA) compared to the vaccine virus, five of which occurred in four antigenic sites, together with 16 changes in neuraminidase (NA) and a number of substitutions in proteins MP, NP, NS and PB2. Despite the many amino acid substitutions, A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses remained antigenically closely related to A/California/7/2009 vaccine virus. Bulgarian A(H3N2) strains (subclade 3C.2a) showed changes at 11 HA positions four of which were located in antigenic sites A and B, together with 6 positions in NA, compared to the subclade 3C.3a vaccine virus. They contained unique HA1 substitutions N171K, S312R and HA2 substitutions I77V and G155E compared to Bulgarian 3C.2a viruses of the previous season. All 20 B/Victoria-lineage viruses sequenced harboured two substitutions in the antigenic 120-loop region of HA, and 5 changes in NA, compared to the B/Brisbane/60/2008 vaccine virus. The results of this study reaffirm the continuous genetic variability of circulating seasonal influenza viruses and the need for continued systematic antigenic and molecular surveillance.