The epidemiology of H5N1 and H7N9 avian viruses of humans infected in China differs despite both viruses being avian reassortants that have inherited six internal genes from a common ancestor, H9N2. The median age of infected populations is substantially younger for H5N1 virus (26 years) compared with H7N9 virus (63 years). Population susceptibility to infection with seasonal influenza is understood to be influenced by cross-reactive CD8+ T cells directed towards immunogenic peptides derived from internal viral proteins which may provide some level of protection against further influenza infection. Prior exposure to seasonal influenza peptides may influence the age-related infection patterns observed for H5N1 and H7N9 viruses. A comparison of relatedness of immunogenic peptides between historical human strains and the two avian emerged viruses was undertaken for a possible explanation in the differences in age incidence observed. There appeared to be some relationship between past exposure to related peptides and the lower number of H5N1 virus cases in older populations, however the relationship between prior exposure and older populations among H7N9 virus patients was less clear.
Keywords: Avian flu; H5N1; H7N9; immunogenic peptides; influenza A.