Currently circulating influenza B viruses can be divided into two antigenically and genetically distinct lineages referred to by their respective prototype strains, B/Yamagata/16/88 and B/Victoria/2/87, based on amino acid differences in the hemagglutinin surface glycoprotein. During May and July 2005, clinical specimens from two early season influenza B outbreaks in Arizona and southeastern Nepal were subjected to antigenic (hemagglutinin inhibition) and nucleotide sequence analysis of hemagglutinin (HA1), neuraminidase (NA), and NB genes. All isolates exhibited little reactivity with the B/Shanghai/361/2002 (B/Yamagata-like) vaccine strain and significantly reduced reactivity with the previous 2003/04 B/Hong Kong/330/2001 (B/Victoria-like) vaccine strain. The majority of isolates were antigenically similar to B/Hawaii/33/2004, a B/Victoria-like reference strain. Sequence analysis indicated that 33 of 34 isolates contained B/Victoria-like HA and B/Yamagata-like NA and NB proteins. Thus, these outbreak isolates are both antigenically and genetically distinct from the current Northern Hemisphere vaccine virus strain as well as the previous 2003-04 B/Hong Kong/330/2001 (B/Victoria lineage) vaccine virus strain but are genetically similar to B/Malaysia/2506/2004, the vaccine strain proposed for the coming seasons in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Since these influenza B outbreaks occurred in two very distant geographical locations, these viruses may continue to circulate during the 2006 season, underscoring the importance of rapid molecular monitoring of HA, NA and NB for drift and reassortment.
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