by Monica Galiano, Paul-Michael Agapow, Catherine Thompson, Steven Platt, Anthony Underwood, Joanna Ellis, Richard Myers, Jonathan Green, Maria Zambon
The emergence of the influenza (H1N1) 2009 virus provided a unique opportunity to study the evolution of a pandemic virus following its introduction into the human population. Virological and clinical surveillance in the UK were comprehensive during the first and second waves of the pandemic in 2009, with extensive laboratory confirmation of infection allowing a detailed sampling of representative circulating viruses. We sequenced the complete coding region of the haemagglutinin (HA) segment of 685 H1N1 pandemic viruses selected without bias during two waves of pandemic in the UK (April-December 2009). Phylogenetic analysis showed that although temporal accumulation of amino acid changes was observed in the HA sequences, the overall diversity was less than that typically seen for seasonal influenza A H1N1 or H3N2. There was co-circulation of multiple variants as characterised by signature amino acid changes in the HA. A specific substitution (S203T) became predominant both in UK and global isolates. No antigenic drift occurred during 2009 as viruses with greater than four-fold reduction in their haemagglutination inhibition (HI) titre (“low reactors”) were detected in a low proportion (3%) and occurred sporadically. Although some limited antigenic divergence in viruses with four-fold reduction in HI titre might be related to the presence of 203T, additional studies are needed to test this hypothesis.