An outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) has recently spread to poultry in 9 Asian countries. H5N1 infections have caused > or =52 human deaths in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia from January 2004 to April 2005. Genomic analyses of H5N1 isolates from birds and humans showed 2 distinct clades with a nonoverlapping geographic distribution. All the viral genes were of avian influenza origin, which indicates absence of reassortment with human influenza viruses. All human H5N1 isolates tested belonged to a single clade and were resistant to the adamantane drugs but sensitive to neuraminidase inhibitors. Most H5N1 isolates from humans were antigenically homogeneous and distinct from avian viruses circulating before the end of 2003. Some 2005 isolates showed evidence of antigenic drift. An updated nonpathogenic H5N1 reference virus, lacking the polybasic cleavage site in the hemagglutinin gene, was produced by reverse genetics in anticipation of the possible need to vaccinate humans.